Built in Queen Mary style in the 1880s, the line of redbrick row houses on Alexander between 138th and 139th streets are official city landmarks that embody the heart and soul of the district.
However, many of the once glorious buildings have fallen into disrepair after years of abandonment.
Dardashtian, owner of Queens-based Dash Real Estate group saw opportunity in three of the neglected townhomes, snatching up 265 Alexander Ave. for $500,000 at a bank foreclosure auction, and 297 and 299 in a $1 million package deal in late 2018.
But this isn’t the Dardashtian family’s first rodeo in Mott Haven. These three properties bring the Dardashtian’s Alexander Avenue portfolio to a count of seven homes—nearly half the block.
With plans to add penthouses to all three parcels and convert them to market-rate rentals, Dardashtian promises to preserve yet modernize the existing structures. His former rehabs on Alexander Ave. included three-bedroom units that rented at $2,400, the New York Times reported in 2015, but Dardashtian did not disclose the projected rent for the new units.
Now for the first time, Dardashtian has hit a red light before passing go. Adding rooftop additions to landmarked buildings requires special approval from Community Board 1 and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The public hearing process then brought him face to face with angry residents at Board 1’s monthly meeting at Metropolitan Community College on 149th Street on Nov. 14. Board members were infuriated by his plans to turn houses they’ve long dreamed of living in or ensure community members could live in, into market-rate rentals that will rent at prices most local residents can’t afford.
Community Board 1 member Josephine Byrne said she had wanted to convert the historic row houses to family homes for more than 10 years. She says she teamed up with her neighbors on 142nd St to get squatters out of a nearby house, buy it and rent it affordably to a local family in need. But in a familiar series of events, a developer swooped in and beat the locals to it.
According to Dardashtian, the properties were embroiled in litigation for nearly a decade after the death of the previous owner, leaving them in a state of neglect, littered with needles and vermin.
“It’s a long, time-consuming process,” he said. “We were lucky to get it before the banks could close on it.”
Department of Buildings public records show 60 violations at 297 Alexander Ave under its previous ownership, ranging from broken pipes to over-occupancy. One complaint from 2012 states the ceiling collapsed due to six people living in one second-floor bedroom.
Dardashtian says his renovations will bring the “gutted-out” buildings back to their “previous grandeur.”
But Jaliz Albanese, a member of Community Board 1, rejected the idea that the community needs developers like Dardashtian to swoop in and save their aging buildings, as if Mott Haven residents were incapable of restoring the properties themselves.
Bronx residents who have actually tried to get their hands on these properties have run into road blocks.
Audrey De Jesus, a lifelong Hunts Point resident who recently opened a bar on 138th St, claims she made a $500,000 offer on 265 Alexander Avenue but she never heard back.
Arline Parks, Board 1’s Land Use and Housing Chair, said “We’ve seen a lot of development that has been planned. We haven’t seen holistic development because historically, the elected officials throw us away.”
Upon hearing Dardashtian’s proposal at Board 1’s meeting in November, community board members said that they are angry but exhausted from hearing this scenario play out again and again.
“It’s by design that people here have no access to these buildings. If we make it easy they keep coming and doing this,” said Board 1 member Diana Rodriguez.
For now, Board 1 members will continue to grapple with ways to improve their neighborhood for its people when development is only accessible to outside investors like Dardashtian.
“He’s not the one who caused it,” said Board member Ngande Ambroise, in an attempt to calm down his fellow board members. “We have to change the system.”
Dardashtian’s proposal to add penthouses to 265, 297 and 299 Alexander Ave. was unanimously approved with modifications by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Dec. 4. He will be required to reduce the visibility of the addition to maintain the building’s historic character.