Volume 76, Number 12 | August 9 - 15, 2006

Villager photos by Clayton Patterson

A demolition worker removing a dormer window on Monday at the old P.S. 64, above, in violation of a stop-work order. All of the sidewalk on the building’s 10th St. side, below, should be completely covered by a protective shed.

Not easy stopping old P.S. 64 owner from chopping

By Lincoln Anderson

There were yet more puzzling developments at the old P.S. 64 during the past week.

Last Thursday, Daniel Reardon, a representative of the National Architectural Trust preservation organization, wrote City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, saying he’d received a call from old P.S. 64 owner Gregg Singer’s attorney.

“Apparently,” Reardon wrote Mendez, “Mr. Singer has had a change of heart and is willing to resume good-faith negotiations with you, the city and other concerned parties to restore and preserve the damaged facade of [the old] P.S. 64 and to work with the various interested parties to resolve its future use.” Reardon said Jeffrey Glen, Singer’s attorney, asked him for his advice, and that he suggested Singer immediately stop chopping off the building’s historic exterior detail work “as a show of good faith,” and resume negotiations with Mendez about future use of the old school at E. Ninth St. and Avenue B.
Reardon assured he had personally observed the building last Thursday to verify that demolition work had been suspended.

However, while neighbors confirmed no exterior scraping occurred last Friday, on Monday morning, the demolition workers were back on their scaffoldings chipping away at the old P.S. 64’s ornate dormer windows on its fifth-floor mansard roof.

Singer hopes to overturn the building’s June landmarking by denuding its exterior. If successful in court, he would then demolish the whole building in hopes of erecting a jumbo 24-story student dormitory.

It turned out that, on Aug. 1, the Department of Buildings had issued a stop-work order, because protective sidewalk sheds had not been installed the length of the property’s Ninth and 10th St. sides and because the top of the sheds that are there were ringed with razor wire, which isn’t allowed in residential neighborhoods.

Michael Rosen, an East Village Community Coalition member, said he hadn’t noticed the stop-work order being posted at the site last week, but had subsequently seen it. On Monday, as the workers started hacking away again at the terracotta and limestone ornaments, neighbors raised the alarm. Police arrived at the scene to enforce the stop-work order.

“By having a shorter sidewalk shed, you’re endangering the public,” said Jennifer Givner, a D.O.B. spokesperson. Givner said the department received notice Monday morning that the workers were at it again, but that Buildings inspectors who later arrived at the scene didn’t witness any work being done. She said Singer faces fines of up to $5,000 for the two violations.

Mendez said Reardon called her and initially said Singer had agreed to stop for 24 hours. Mendez said she can’t speak directly to Singer because he’s suing the city. She said her attorneys subsequently spoke to Singer’s attorneys, who assured her that the work stoppage was “indefinite.” Mendez said she was unable to meet with Singer right away last Thursday because she was busy dealing with “rolling brownouts” in the northern end of her district in the East 30s. On Friday, according to Mendez, Singer’s attorney communicated that she should get back to Singer with an alternative reuse plan for the building.

“He clearly is not someone to be trusted,” said Mendez of Singer’s restarting the demolition on Monday. “And he was out there chopping away while there was a stop-work order. He’s engendered no trust in the community.

“I’m interested in seeing how much he really wants for this building,” Mendez continued, “and seeing if there’s someone out there who would buy it. He said he wants fair market value.”

As for why she didn’t answer when asked at a press conference a week ago what she thought of Singer’s offer to develop luxury housing with some community space at the site, Mendez said it was because of a confidentiality agreement she has with the developer over their negotiations. She said she’s been advised she can only speak in general terms about their negotiations.

Singer said Reardon asked him to stop the work for just two days and that hopefully Singer would be able to speak to Mendez during the stoppage. Singer claimed he was unaware Mendez’s attorneys had called his attorneys on Friday, and he said that, despite the confidentiality agreement, he’s ready to speak directly to Mendez any time she’s ready.

“She can’t find two minutes to talk to me on the phone in the last month?” he asked. “There are too many middlemen here.”

As for the stop-work order, he said it was sent to the wrong address, 286 W. 86th St., which is not even the correct address for his development office, which is on W. 86th St. He said the first he heard of the stop-work order was when his security guard at 605 E. Ninth St. called him about it on Monday morning.

As for Mendez’s query as to the market value of the building, he said it’s at least $50 million for the existing building and $86 million if the full air rights for a community-use facility, such as a dorm, were utilized.

“So if she’s got someone who can write that kind of check, tell her to call me,” he said.

Singer said in about a week, once the full shed is erected and the razor wire removed, his workers will resume hacking off the building’s detail work.

“It’s really not fair for the government to allow this building to be a vacant eyesore,” he said.

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