Volume 75, Number 22 | October 19 - 22, 2005


Old P.S. 64 shows that, yes, you can work with City Hall

In a stunning double-barreled victory in the effort to save the old P.S. 64, on Tuesday the Board of Standards and Appeals denied an appeal by developer Gregg Singer to build a 19-story dormitory tower on the site of the former school building, while the Landmarks Preservation Commission also announced it had calendared the building for a designation hearing. While the B.S.A.’s ruling, which was unanimous, might have been expected, Landmarks’ announcement came as a welcome surprise.

It’s expected Singer will sue the city over both decisions. We expect he will fail, and that the lawsuits will only delay the inevitable fact that he will never be able to build his planned 222-unit university megadorm on the site.

It was recently announced that Singer was offering the old P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth St. near Avenue B for sale for $50 million to $70 million, after purchasing it in 1998 for $3.15 million. Now that it looks like the existing building — where Yip Harburg, who wrote “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” was a student, and Al Smith and F.D.R. gave speeches — may be landmarked in a few months, the property’s value has depreciated substantially.

Singer should now look to sell the building back to some group or coalition of groups that will develop it responsibly and restore it to use as some form of a community, cultural and educational center, as it was formerly for 20 years as CHARAS/El Bohio. The likelihood that that group will materialize soon is enhanced if the building is landmarked.

Now that the building is calendared, Singer will not be able to demolish it or make major modifications. Certainly, it would only be spiteful for Singer to try to damage the building at this point by chipping off cornice work, for which he has a grandfathered permit.

Clearly, this turn of events shows that not only can you fight City Hall, you can work with City Hall to achieve constructive solutions. Enormous credit is due Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Landmarks Commissioner Robert Tierney for hearing the will of the community. Leading the charge have been Councilmember Margarita Lopez always — backed by Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Martin Connor and Assemblymember Steve Sanders — and, more recently, the East Village Community Coalition.

Without doubt, this victory would never have been achieved without the tireless work and expertise of E.V.C.C. They’ve sent tens of thousands of postcards to the mayor and Tierney urging the landmarking of the old school. They’ve lobbied, done all the right things. Despite some internecine feuding in the effort, they — and Lopez — kept their focus. Now, it’s time to move forward, and stay unified as the endgame to Singer’s ill-fated ownership of this building plays out.

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