Volume 74, Number 33 | December 22 - 28, 2004

Villager photos by Tracey Luszaz

Reverend Billy and his choir perform an “exorcism” outside the E. 11th St. office of Beyer Blinder Belle, the firm that designed Gregg Singer’s planned 19-story dormitory project on E. Ninth St. and Avenue B.

Buildings nixes E. 9th St. I-can’t-believe-it’s-a-dorm dorm

By Lincoln Anderson

Dealing a blow to Gregg Singer’s plan to build a 222-room, 19-story dormitory on the site of the old P.S. 64/former CHARAS/El Bohio community and cultural center on E. Ninth St., the Department of Buildings last week disapproved the plans the developer submitted for the project.

Like the project’s opponents, D.O.B. was unconvinced that the building as planned would actually be a dormitory.

Among the objections to the project listed by Buildings’ plan examiner was that the developer must “substantiate dormitory use…for ‘college or school student’ housing …floors 3-19 indicate residential apartments layout.” In other words, to the examiner, Singer’s planned dormitory tower addition does not resemble a dormitory when the interior layouts are scrutinized.

In addition, D.O.B. last week disapproved several permit applications for the project, including for a new foundation, sidewalks, underground plumbing and so on, presumably on technicalities.

As to specifically what makes Singer’s project look more residential than dorm, Jennifer Givner, a D.O.B. spokesperson, said an inspection of the actual plans at Buildings would possibly reveal this, but that she couldn’t provide further details.

Michael Rosen, a leader of the East Village Community Coalition, which has been battling Singer’s project, said that plans for a previous 23-story dorm Singer had planned on the site were posted on the Web and did show interior floor plans. Rosen said these previous plans, by the S.L.C.E. firm, showed the typical one-bedroom apartment layouts for which S.L.C.E. is known. Singer withdrew that plan in the face of community opposition. However, Rosen said, interior layouts for the current dorm plans, by Beyer Blinder Belle, are not posted online.

Of Buildings’ findings that the dorm looks residential, Rosen said, “Surprise, surprise, surprise…. It’s odd that every building he designs looks amazingly like an apartment building — with a garage.”

Asked what Singer would have to do to convince D.O.B. his project really is a dorm, Givner said, “The applicant must address these objections to the satisfaction of the department before moving forward. At this point I cannot speculate as to what the applicant will submit to meet these objections.”

Singer’s application for an alteration permit to raze the old school building’s 10th St. side to clear way for the new tower is still pending. Singer’s representatives have to come in and meet with the examiner about the alteration permit, Givner said, adding that to date, Singer’s people have not called to schedule an appointment.

Singer answered questions from The Villager by e-mail. Asked how he felt about the disapproval, Singer said: “Plans submitted that are reviewed by the Department of Buildings typically receive objections. Then the development team discusses and resolves the objections and receive a permit.”

Asked why he thinks D.O.B. feels the building is residential — and what he will do to convince D.O.B. it is a dorm — Singer said: “They must read the plans completely.”

Asked if he plans to demolish the rear of the old school building even if he doesn’t have approved building plans, Singer said: “The Villager is not the proper forum to discuss this question.”

Asked his response to the fact that Reverend Billy — the anti-development performance artist preacher — led an “exorcism” outside the E. 11th St. offices of Beyer Blinder Belle last Wednesday night, Singer said: “Question doesn’t deserve a response.”

Meanwhile, community members fighting Singer’s plan gathered at the new P.S. 64 on E. Sixth St. to organize their strategy. Councilmember Margarita Lopez led the meeting of about 50 to 75 residents, activists and artists at which it was decided that four committees would be set up to work on different issues: a mission statement committee to craft a credo for the community center they hope to restore to the location; a legal committee to examine how Singer acquired the building at auction from the city in 1998 for $3.15 million; a structure committee to consider the physical condition and appropriate reuse of the old building; and a landmarking committee to focus on the ongoing effort to get the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the property an individual landmark.

At the meeting, Lopez was happy to announce Singer’s dorm plans had been disapproved.

Also attending the meeting was Representative Nydia Velazquez, who said she would gladly work to get $1 million or $2 million in federal funding for the cause — but would have to have a very specific sense of what the community wants to do with the building if she is to convince Republicans in Washington to make any allocations for it.

It was determined that the committees will meet among themselves, then will all reconvene in three weeks and update the other members.

Although some thought bringing the sometimes feuding factions in the campaign together in the same room might not work, several people praised Lopez afterwards for running a smooth meeting.

After the meeting’s conclusion, some headed over to St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, where Reverend Billy had packed a crowd of 200 in for his Christmas show, which focused on the community struggle against the dorm project.

As his choir sang “Save CHARAS” in the background, Billy told the saga of the building and said the East Village is “not for sale.”

“We will save CHARAS and we don’t know how to do it yet, but we will learn from our fathers….” said Billy, citing Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.

Suddenly, told by someone who came over from the E. Sixth St. meeting that Singer’s plans had been disapproved, Billy announced, “We just got the good gospel — Gregg Singer has been denied his permits!!!” prompting the crowd to burst into cheers.

He then led much of his audience out of the church and to Singer’s architects’ office for the finale, the exorcism.

“Children of Beyer Blinder Belle — know in the design world as the killer B’s — hear our prayers,” he said falling to his knees. “You will feel the presence of the East Village. We will see to it that there are no new N.Y.U. dorms east of the Bowery,” Billy said, as his choir and others who had come — like E.V.C.C.’s Rosen — cheered. “If you get your demolition permits, we will put our bodies in front of the bulldozers,” he vowed.

Richard Blinder, who designed the dorm, did not return calls for comment on the exorcism — though he recently admitted to being very upset by posters plastered on the building’s doors comparing the dorm project to Auschwitz.

Lopez said she wasn’t shocked that Singer’s building appears residential to Buildings.

“That’s what it looks like. It doesn’t look like a real bona fide effort to provide a community facility for the community,” she said. Lopez said Singer should work with the community to help plan a “real” community facility.

“He will be better off — than trying to approve a permit that is transparent to the Department of Buildings,” she said. “I mean, the chutzpah! It’s just unbelievable to me — by arguing this [dorm] is a community facility.”

Lopez said Singer can’t demolish the building without a viable plan in place.

“You can’t just demolish a building because you want to — particularly a building like that,” she said.

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