Volume 75, Number 33 | January 4 - 10, 2006

Developer sues city for rejecting E. 9th dormitory

By Lincoln Anderson

Developer Gregg Singer has filed a lawsuit in hopes of overturning the Board of Standards and Appeals’ ruling against his plan for a 19-story university dormitory at the site of the old P.S. 64/former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center on E. Ninth St.

Pat Pacifico, B.S.A. executive director, said Singer on Nov. 25 filed what is known as an Article 78 lawsuit — which is a challenge to a ruling by a city or state agency — in State Supreme Court. The suit was filed within the required timeframe following the board’s denial of Singer’s appeal.

“We received the lawsuit, which was in a timely manner. The corporation counsel [City Law Department] will defend,” Pacifico said.

On Oct. 19 the B.S.A. turned down Singer’s appeal of D.O.B.’s earlier ruling against his project. Among other things, the B.S.A. upheld D.O.B. in finding that Singer had not shown that any college or university had established institutional control of the proposed project by signing a lease. Also on Oct. 19, in another blow to Singer’s development scheme, it was learned that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had scheduled the turn-of-the-century school building near Avenue B for a designation hearing as an individual landmark

Singer’s Article 78 suit contains the usual charges one would expect in such a lawsuit, such as calling the B.S.A.’s ruling “arbitrary and capricious,” Pacifico said. Singer’s suit also charges that when the board heard his appeal, only four members, not the full five, were present. The members voted unanimously, 4-0, against Singer’s appeal.

Some community activists fighting the dorm wrongly speculated Singer would hold his fire and, assuming L.P.C. designates the building, then file suit after the designation. Pacifico said it would be highly unlikely the B.S.A.’s decision would be overturned, but that in the case that that does happen, they would appeal to the Appelate Court.

“On an appeal case [decided by the B.S.A.] I would think no judge is going to supersede the judgment of a professional board,” Pacifico said. “What we did was uphold the Buildings Department. We would not accept what a lower court would say.”

According to a source, the B.S.A. “has great confidence in their decision” of Oct. 19 when they rejected Singer’s appeal.

Pacifico predicted Singer might file a second lawsuit if the building is landmarked.

In addition, there are reports that a real estate brokerage firm representing Singer on the old P.S. 64 has put out a second offer to a select group of developers on the 130,000-square-foot property, which also has significant buildable air rights. Several months ago, Massey Knackal was offering the building for sale for $50 million to $70 million or for rent under a triple-net lease. Singer brought the formerly city-owned property at auction in 1998 for $3.15 million. Singer did not return a phone call or e-mail for comment and a call for comment to Singer’s broker at Massey Knackal was not returned.

Roland Legiardi-Laura of the East Village Community Coalition, the ad-hoc community group leading the effort to try to save the old school building, said Singer could wage a protracted legal fight to build his dormitory tower and against the landmarking of the building if it gets landmarked.

“It’s all about money — if he can make the case that the building is worth ‘X’ amount and he’s been separated from his chance to make a massive profit,” Legiardi-Laura said. “He’s got the bullets in his gun to fight for several more years — but the fact that he’s offering the building again means he wants to get out.”

New York University has said it isn’t interested in Singer’s dormitory project, and Legiardi-Laura said now that N.Y.U. is developing a 700-student dorm on E. 12th St. there’s no chance the university would change its mind and become interested in E. Ninth St.

“N.Y.U.’s already got one hated megadorm project on its hands,” Legiardi-Laura said, referring to the community opposition to the planned 26-story dorm on the former St. Ann’s Church site on E. 12th St. “Maybe one hated megadorm — but not two hated megadorms.”

E.V.C.C. and the dorm opponents are eager to see L.P.C. hold the designation hearing soon for the old P.S. 64, he said.

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