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When asked why he'd be willing to alienate the city and further enrage local residents by defacing the school in disregard of any landmark designation, Singer says, "They already hate me. So they hate me more. So? I have a fiduciary responsibility to my investors. I can't go broke. I think the community should wake up and work with me."
At the hearing, Singer seemed desperate to find a compromise with the city or community leaders.
"There are many ways to provide space [to the community] or preserve some of the decoration," announced his lawyer Jeffrey Glen, who was once a senior land-use attorney for the city. "We are ready to talk."
And ready to sue. At the same time he's angling for a way to preempt landmarking, Singer has also slapped the city with a $100 million lawsuit, accusing Mayor Bloomberg, the landmarks commission, the buildings department, and its oversight body, the Board of Standards and Appeals, of colluding to thwart his dorm plan. The suit was filed by Randy Mastro, Giuliani's former chief of staff, who helped oversee the sale of Charas.
Back in 1998, many saw the sale of Charas as a political hit on the progressive forces that mustered there. Mastro's staff rejected the financial plans Charas offered to keep the building off the auction block. And the City Council rep at the time, Antonio Pagan, who backed the sale, was a fierce opponent of Charas's leaders; later, he got a job in the Giuliani administration.
Mastro's suit on behalf of Singer accuses the mayor's office of "manipulating city agencies like marionettes" and claims that Bloomberg cut a "dirty political deal" by agreeing to block the dorm in exchange for endorsement by Pagan's successor, Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, who was closely allied with Charas.
The suit notes that Lopez, a gay liberal Latina who backed Democrat Fernando Ferrer in 2001, crossed party lines to endorse Republican Bloomberg on October 13, 2005, a week before the landmarks commission, comprising mayoral appointees, voted to set P.S. 64 for a hearing.
City attorney Gabriel Taussig calls Singer's claim of a quid pro quo between Lopez and Bloomberg simply "not true," adding, "The landmarks commission is an independent body who will decide this on the merits."
Lopez, who was given a plum position at the New York City Housing Authority after losing her bid to become Manhattan borough president, also vigorously denies any deal was cut. "It is ludicrous to even suggest that," she says. "Michael Bloomberg is the best mayor that this city has had since I've lived in the city." Lopez makes no apologies for doing all she could to block Singer's proposed dorm, which she says would do nothing to serve local residents.
Of course, any high-rise dorm would run into a storm of opposition in the East Village, where the locals are already up in arms about the steady incursions of New York University.
Yet Singer claims that City Hall initially welcomed the idea of a dormitory off Avenue B as a "marketing tool" for universities.
In his lawsuit, Singer says he worked with members of the landmarks commission and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's chief of staff to scale back the dorm tower from 27 stories to 19, while preserving the more ornate 9th Street side of the building. But the deal went south, the suit alleges, when Lopez asked Bloomberg to "stymie" the plan.
photo: Nicholas Burnham
Officials at Landmarks and City Hall concede they met with Singer to discuss his plans, but insist they never signed on to anything. "No one, either from Landmarks or City Hall, told him that they approved of his proposal to save the facade of the building, tear down the rest of the building, and build a tower dormitory," city attorney Virginia Waters said in an e-mail to the Voice. "He was specifically told by Landmarks that they did notapprove of this proposal."
In fact, the buildings department rejected Singer's dorm plan in December 2004long before Lopez endorsed Bloombergprimarily because Singer has yet to find any legitimate schools or universities willing to sign a minimum 10-year lease in order to prove "institutional control" prior to construction.
Last October, the Board of Standards and Appeals upheld that decision, ruling the city could not allow an "on-spec" dorm. (Singer is trying to overturn the BSA's ruling in State Supreme Court.)
But the BSA ruled the same day the landmarks commission voted to schedule a hearing to consider granting P.S. 64 landmark status, and that timing, Singer claims, is no coincidence.
Given the shortage of student housing, plenty of schools, Singer insists, would have jumped at the chance to lease space in his dorm, especially since he says he was offering to let them share in the ample profits earned from student fees. His lawsuit names nine colleges and universities he alleges were dissuaded by Lopez and the mayor, including New York University, which the suit claims was specifically asked by City Hall "not to get involved."
"This is sheer fantasy," says NYU spokesperson John Beckman, who insists NYU has never been interested in partnering with Singer. "We've said no publicly in so many ways," Beckman says. "This is like Groundhog Day."