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Washington Heights preservationists still seek protection for 12 historic rowhouses

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“It breaks your heart to think of tearing them down”

Washington Heights residents are still scrambling to save a strip of row houses along 158th Street from the threat of impending construction, the New York Times reports. The issue: residents want the row of 12 buildings, Nos. 626-648, to be part of the Audubon Park Historic District, which would protect them from developers with high rise ambitions.

StreetEasy shows two of the houses, 636 and 640, as under contract for $2.35 million each, and there is talk in the neighborhood about offers for the house between them—a “prize for a developer,” the Times notes, “because it comes with a buildable lot behind the others.”

So far, though, neighborhood activists have made little headway: the 12 houses were deliberately left out of the 2009 historic district, as designated by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, because they are “a different typology” from the “five- to 13-story apartment buildings that dominate the district.” Last year, local preservationists appealed to the commission to reconsider, but the appeal was rejected.

Needless to say, neighbors are not pleased. “It breaks your heart to think of tearing them down,” one long-time resident told the Times. “People who are new here don’t know there are dangers in losing what we’ve lived with. It’s not just ripping up those houses. A developer doesn’t think about how the subway would handle all the traffic, or all those people marching up and down the streets.” Other owners on the strip say they’ve been inundated with calls from brokers, asking if they might want to sell.

Despite the setbacks from Landmarks, preservationists press on. Last month, Mark D. Levine, the City Council member who represents the area, wrote the commission again to advocate for preserving the houses in some way, either as a stand-alone historic district or an expansion of the existing one.