Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

City moves on eyesore

The city has begun the process of filing a lawsuit against the owners of a South Village property that has been wilting for years on an otherwise idyllic stretch of MacDougal St.

The vacant three-story building, at 43 MacDougal St. at the corner of King St. in the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District, has remained an eyesore for decades with increasing problems related to vermin, mold and squatters on the premises.

Earlier this year, the 1846 property had its window broken and excrement smeared across the building before the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development stepped in to make the necessary repairs at the urging of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

G.V.S.H.P. followed up with an inquiry to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which began fining the owners $5,000 per month for failure to voluntarily make the repairs. The owners, described as an elderly couple, have amassed a total of $15,000 in fines since February for failing to appear before the Environmental Control Board to address the situation, with another $5,000 penalty expected to follow.

“At this time, due to the absence of any apparent effort by the owner to make repairs, the owner’s complete nonresponsiveness to multiple L.P.C. violations and large fines, the L.P.C. has begun the process of initiating a demolition-by-neglect lawsuit against the owners,” stated the commission’s deputy counsel, John Weiss, in a letter to G.V.S.H.P. The letter notes, however, that this type of lawsuit entails a lengthy process, including visits to the site, evaluation of existing conditions and the drafting of multiple legal documents.

“That’s really the strongest civil legal tool that they have at their disposal to get an unwilling owner to restore a landmark property,” said Andrew Berman, the society’s executive director, about the commission’s action. “Demolition-by-neglect cases have certainly had some pretty powerful results in the past.”

By levying substantial fines, the lawsuit’s goal is to either force the owners to make the appropriate repairs or sell the property. Berman said the owners have thus far not been receptive to selling, though the location would command top dollar. He added the owners have continued to pay real estate taxes despite disregarding legal obligations, creating some question over their apparent competence in adhering to city laws.

Nearby residents have been particularly active in the process, Berman added, since the building’s deteriorating conditions have affected them the most.

“Nobody wants this more than the poor people who live on that block,” he said. “They have had to deal with the vermin and smell.”

Downtown in the dumps

A recent rental market report comparing Manhattan home prices over the past two years shows that most Downtown neighborhoods have come back to earth following the highs of the boom years.

According to the Real Estate Group New York’s May Manhattan Rental Market Report, the East Village, Greenwich Village, Soho and Chelsea all experienced drops since 2007, with the Lower East Side providing the only bright spot among the lot.

The East Village took the hardest hit, with average rents for all doorman and non-doorman units falling 9.56 percent over the two-year period, including a 17.44 percent average drop in doorman one- and two-bedroom prices.

In Greenwich Village, average rents for all unit types decreased by 4.91 percent over the two-year period, including a 17.42 dip in the price of non-doorman two-bedrooms.

Soho suffered a 5.77 percent falloff from 2007, including an 11.21 increase in the price of non-doorman two-bedrooms. Chelsea also slipped, posting a 4.52 overall decrease including a 14.41 drop in the price of doorman studios.

On the Lower East Side, however, average rents increased a total of 4.57 percent since 2007, including a 21.53 spike in doorman two-bedroom rents and a 15.33 jump in doorman studio rents.

High Line manicure

Fans of the city’s graffiti-splashed aesthetic created a minor stir when workers on the High Line recently painted over a piece of urban history.

In April, the work in question — a massive graffiti tag covering the side of the former Roxy nightclub building at 18th St. and 10th Ave. — was covered in gray paint in advance of the elevated park’s debut this month.

The graffiti stood out for years on the building’s upper portion abutting the former railway, and many observers counted the large lettering as an artistic reminder of the city’s gritty past.

“I thought it enhanced it,” said Robert Hammond, the park’s progenitor and co-founder of the Friend of the High Line, acknowledging that he would have liked the scrawls to stay.

But the city Parks Department did not agree, forcing crews to cover the spray-painted portion in accordance with its no-tolerance policy on graffiti.

In other High Line news, the project just received a $10 million donation from media magnate Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who both have offices near the park. According to The New York Times, the gift brings the project’s fundraising total to $34 million as part of a $50 million capital campaign. The donation reportedly ranks among the four largest ever presented by individuals to city parks.


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