Protesters rally, but developer says he wants a deal


By Lincoln Anderson

A week after workers started chipping away at the exterior details of the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St., local politicians and community residents rallied outside the building to express their outrage and also their resolve.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez said she is introducing legislation in the City Council that would make it illegal to use a pre-existing demolition permit to alter a building’s exterior after it is landmarked. Although the old P.S. 64 was landmarked this June, Gregg Singer, its owner, is using a permit issued in October 2004 to strip off the old school’s exterior trim and window details. The move by Singer is a never-before-seen bid to overturn the building’s landmarking so he can, in turn, build a jumbo dormitory on the site.

Although they had met with Singer on July 6 to try to work out a deal, both Mendez and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez said they now will not meet with him again since he started chopping away at the building. Singer, for his part, says the two officials failed to make good on their promise to have a follow-up meeting, and that they knew he had to start the demolition work soon or his permit would expire. Singer says the city and local politicians are not presenting him with any plan for what they want to do with the building.

“I told him I would not meet with him if he touched that building,” Mendez reiterated at the press conference. “It is for Mr. Gregg Singer to come up with a plan — and every plan he has come up with has not been viable.”

Asked if she would meet with the embattled developer, Velazquez said, “Not after this…. If this is the conciliatory way that Gregg Signer thinks will work…. Either he has to be in court for the next five or 10 years, or he has to change his attitude that he will not compromise the character of that building.”

Mendez said Singer on July 6 had proposed making the building into luxury apartments and giving part of it over for community use, but, due to a confidentiality agreement, she could not reveal the size of this proposed community space. Perhaps respecting the confidentiality agreement, she declined to give her opinion about having luxury residential housing at the site.

Jennifer Givner, a Department of Buildings spokesperson, said Singer’s facade work permit is legal. Lisi de Bourbon, a Landmarks Preservation Commission spokesperson, said the commission had no comment on Singer’s destruction of the building’s old terracotta and limestone detailing.

However, Michael Rosen, a member of the East Village Community Coalition, obtained a July 27 letter to Singer from Landmarks Commissioner Robert Tierney in which the commissioner stated he was “deeply disappointed” at Singer’s action.

Singer said he is paying about $150,000 to demolish the exterior ornamentation and now has added another crew, for a total of five demolition workers. He said he’s waiting for Mendez and Velazquez or the city to call him on the phone and offer a deal. He said he would drop his plans — and lawsuit — for the dorm — which would be 24 stories, not 19, if he overturns the landmarking, he noted — if the city lets him build residential housing by removing the property’s deed restriction for a community use facility, or if the city funds a homeless and treatment center at the building. For the residential building, he’d want to add four stories and for the homeless center he’d want to add one or two stories to the already 110,000-square-foot existing building, he said.

“If it was acceptable and they gave a couple of floors, we’d probably drop the dorm lawsuit,” he said.

He also said he’d stop chipping off the building’s details and would drop his plan to reverse the landmarking.

“If they cut a deal, I’d stop immediately,” he said. “I wouldn’t try to reverse the landmarking.”

Singer said the size of the community space he offered to Mendez and Velazquez was “significant” and that it would be at “half market rate.”

If they cut a deal, he might also withdraw his $100 million lawsuit against the city, he said.

But if Mendez tries to void his demolition permit through new legislation, he said, “It just helps my legal case — more tortious interference, more fraud.”

“I bought a building from the city,” Singer said, “and they won’t let me use it. Don’t you think that’s wrong?”