City to old P.S. 64 owner: Fix it, or face fines

BY SARAH FERGUSON | Embattled developer Gregg Singer could face legal action and fines of up to $5,000 a day if he does not take swift action to fix the crumbling facade of the former P.S. 64 school building on E. Ninth St. in the East Village.

In a March 4 letter, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission ordered Singer to “expeditiously” address deteriorating conditions at the vacant, turn-of-the-century school building, which was landmarked in 2006.

Site visits by L.P.C. staff have revealed “cracks at various locations, facade elements in a compromised condition, back-up masonry exposed to the elements on the north facade and cracked chimneys, among other issues,” according to the letter by L.P.C. Chairperson Sarah Carroll.

After a crack on the facade of the old P.S. 64 caused the evacuation of several buildings last month, developer Gregg Singer held a sign for his Web site for the building. He has been unable to redevelop the former school for more than two decades. His early plans for the building — which was later landmarked — called for its full or partial demolition and replacing it with a high-rise dormitory tower. (Photos by Sarah Ferguson)

Under law, owners of landmarked properties are required to maintain their properties in good condition or face legal sanctions.

The L.P.C.’s reprimand comes a month after a crack spotted on the school’s eastern wall prompted the city to cordon off the block and evacuate four neighboring tenements.

Although city inspectors ruled the wall was not then in imminent danger of collapse, on Feb. 13, the Department of Buildings issued a full vacate order for the school, after follow-up inspections prompted new concerns.

Specifically, the Feb. 13 vacate order cites “visible cracks, gaps and deterioration” in the “ornamental facade elements” on the E. 10th St.
side of the building, which are now at risk of falling into the street and onto neighboring properties.

“In addition, interior fire proofing are [sic] missing, thereby exposing structural steel members. These conditions have made the entire building and yards unsafe to occupy,” according to the vacate order from D.O.B.

D.O.B. ordered Singer to hire an engineer to survey the property and report back by March 21 to outline how he plans to implement repairs. A hearing has also been set for April 4, when Singer will appear before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to address the violations.

The crack atop the building’s southeast corner on E. 10th St., at upper left, that caused the building evacuations last month.

Singer, who was only occupying the ground-floor office when the vacate order was issued, has dismissed the city’s actions as “political.”

On Wed., March 13, his spokesperson Nicole Epstein confirmed Singer had hired an engineer to “prepare a report” on the school’s conditions. Epstein said Singer had been in “constant contact” with L.P.C. over the years. She questioned the timing of the city’s safety concerns, particularly in light of recent pledges by Mayor de Blasio to “reacquire” the property for community use.

“Doesn’t it seem strange that despite numerous inspections and meetings at my client’s building with L.P.C. that now, after the mayor’s Oct. 2017 and Aug. 2018 announcement that he wants to purchase my client’s building…that new rapid developing structural issues are all of a sudden discovered that warrant emergency action?” Epstein wrote in an e-mail to The Villager.

Singer has been trying to convert the building into a multi-school dormitory for the past 20 years, but has faced staunch opposition from local politicians and fans of CHARAS/El Bohio, the cultural and community center that occupied the school for decades before Singer purchased it at auction in 1998.

In 2013 and 2015, the city issued permits to convert several floors to dorm space, but then revoked those permits after determining Singer’s project did not meet the criteria for a dorm under the city’s so-called “dorm rule.” That rule requires that there be a minimum 10-year lease with an accredited educational institution for the entire development project before a building can be developed as a dorm.

 

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