Last night, Community Board 3 voted 20-12 (with four members abstaining) in favor of a resolution calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the former Bialystoker Nursing Home building at 228 East Broadway. The debate leading up to the vote was lengthy and sometimes contentious, and forced many board members to make a wrenching decision.
As we have been reporting for many months now, preservationists are trying to prevent the nursing home board from selling the 1929 Art Deco building to a developer who plans to demolish it, and put up new condos on the site. The Bialystoker organization contends that it cannot pay off its debts (including $4 million owed to former employees) unless the property is redeveloped. Ladmark-status would obviously prevent demolition.
Last night, there were plenty of opinions on both sides. Preservationists argued that the building is an important monument to the Lower East Side’s immigrant past and that the Bialystoker board was setting up a cynical, “false choice,” pitting workers against historic preservation.
CB3’s Orthodox Jewish contingent, on the other hand, made the case that saving the building at the expense of former employees is shortsighted. “It would be detrimental to the community as a whole,” said Rabbi Y.S. Ginzberg.
During the debate, Bialystoker board member Gary Ambrose rose to his feet on several occasions to defend accusations from speakers. For the most part, his remarks were very similar to those he made dursing a landmarks subcommittee meeting several weeks ago. Ambrose did, however, disclose new information about the fate of an office building next to the nursing home which was sold to Bialystoker Board Chairman Ira Meister for $1.5 million. Responding to questions from CB3 members, he said Meister took possession of the building to help the organization through a financial crisis but the acquisition was only temporary. The property is expected to be sold as part of the larger real estate deal involving the nursing home’s main building.
It is unclear whether last night’s vote will have any impact. Local elected officials have declined to weigh in on one side or the other. The Landmarks Commission has not given any indication whether it’s likely to calendar the Bialystoker application for a public hearing. In the absence of a decision from the LPC, a new owner of the Bialystoker building would be free to proceed with demolition.