Tenants rally to save Fifth Avenue building

Although the building is not in his district, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at the rally against the demolition of the Fifth Avenue building and the proposed development at the site. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenants, local elected officials and housing advocates last Friday rallied against a plan from Madison Realty Capital that would demolish a five-story, 20-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue in a historic district and replace it with a building almost four times as tall as the existing structure but with fewer apartments.

The plan from the developer would replace the building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, which was constructed in 1848, with a 244-foot, 21-story tower with 18 units of luxury housing.

Advocates at the rally last week condemned the project, arguing that the proposed building was an inappropriate size compared to other buildings in the neighborhood. The demolition of the building would also include the loss of at least 10 rent-stabilized units, which would then be replaced by fewer units, all of which would be unaffordable.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of New York’s worst landlords, Madison Realty Capital, is attempting to subvert the Greenwich Village Historic District by seeking a permit to build a luxury condo tower in our neighborhood,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Madison Realty Capital has been a bad actor for years by pushing out rent-stabilized tenants to make quick profits for their investors, and our community is not going to roll out the welcome mat for their blatant greed.”

According to GVSHP, at least half of the units in the current building were affordable when Madison Realty, including units that were enrolled in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program.

East Village residents have long been familiar with Madison Realty Capital after, in 2017, the company took over as property manager of a number of buildings owned by Raphael Toledano, who reportedly harassed tenants out of their rent-regulated apartments. Tenants of buildings taken over by Madison Realty have said that they were treated poorly and affordable units were reportedly warehoused, meaning that they were purposely kept vacant.

“Tenants Taking Control has been dealing with Madison Realty Capital for over four years, since they helped finance the purchase of the 23 buildings in which we live,” said Sally Young of Tenants Taking Control, which is a coalition of tenants in buildings owned by the company. “Madison’s vision for this part of Manhattan seems to be a preposterous and neighborhood-destroying ‘Midtown South’ for wealthy people.”

While the building on Fifth Avenue is not landmarked, it is within the Greenwich Village Historic District, meaning that it can only be demolished if the Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that the building has no architectural or historic significance. The proposed replacement also has to be considered “appropriate” in terms of scale, design and massing for the neighborhood.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation said that Madison Realty Capital has indicated that they are planning to argue both that the current building is historically insignificant and that the proposed building is appropriate for the surrounding area, although the organization has compiled research to argue the historical significance of the building, in addition to data on how out of scale the new tower would be considering surrounding buildings.

“This outrageous plan is a slap in the face to our neighborhood, to our city’s history, and to tenants and affordable housing advocates,” GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman said. “To demolish a landmarked 170-year-old building which housed countless historic figures over the years and contained many units of needed affordable housing to make way for a high-rise pied-a-terre that will be grossly out-of-scale but actually contain less housing, and none of it affordable, is appalling.  We urge the city and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to say no and to reject this application.”

A hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the proposal hasn’t been scheduled yet.

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