On Monday, a posse of politicians and community activists finally showed up on East 10th Street outside the old P.S. 64 school building to shake their fists at the ongoing demolition of its now landmarked facade. Owner Gregg Singer began chopping at it nearly a week ago, using a preexisting alteration permit on file with the buildings department.
“Shame on you,” scolded Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, taking Singer to task for going ahead with the demolition work even after she and City Council rep Rosie Mendez met with him to discuss ways to save the school’s historic exterior. “This is a guy who is trying to send a message that he is open, that he wants to sit down? His actions speak volumes.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was even more blunt: “The community and the landmarks commission already spoke about this building. There should be no more debate about it. Singer should take his marbles and get the hell out of New York!”
But other than saber rattling, there were no ideas voiced for how to get Singer to call off the wrecking crew.
According to a deed restriction, the former school can only be developed for community facility use. But Mendez said that during a July 6 meeting, Singer asked her and Velazquez if they would support allowing him to develop condos there in exchange for providing some community space at below-market rent. Mendez said they told Singer they needed time to think it over and present his offer to the community—particularly those who fought to preserve the CHARAS/El Bohio community center that used to be there. A follow-up meeting was put off, and the next thing they knew, Singer’s workers were up on a scaffold, hacking. “What he’s doing now is spiteful,” Mendez charged.
Fair enough, but after fighting for two years to landmark the school, you’d think local leaders and community activists would have a game plan for what kind of community services they’d like to put in place there and what they’d be willing to trade off in order to get there.
Legally, Singer can strip away all the ornate terra cotta trim because of that alteration permit he took out three years ago. But in a July 27 letter to Singer, Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Robert Tierney said he was “deeply disappointed” and warned Singer not to exceed the terms of that permit, noting that he was required to keep the building “structurally sound” and “water tight.”
“While your actions may be technically authorized by Department of Buildings permits issued before designation of the building, I believe you are proceeding in a way that is both destructive and not in your interest or the interest of the City. If, as I believe, our landmark designation is upheld by the courts, you will have significantly devalued this property and will have taken something invaluable from the people of this city,” Tierney wrote.
At Monday’s press conference, Mendez said she would introduce legislation to amend the Landmarks Law to allow DOB to rescind permits to alter or destroy buildings once they’ve been designated. But that won’t save P.S. 64 now.
Assemblywoman Sylvia Friedman did her best to appeal to the developer’s conscience: “Turn your back on the past and join with us,” she pleaded. “Show the world you care about the community you bought into.”
But Velazquez and the others just dug their heels in deeper. “We can assure you that your desire to develop luxury housing will take a long long time, because we are going to use every legislative tool and every legal action, and we are going to drag this on for the next three, five, 10 years–whatever it takes,” vowed the congresswoman.
Meanwhile, Community Board 3 chair David McWater said he was not “scared” by Singer’s scheme to open a homeless and drug treatment center at P.S. 64 in the interim. Pointing to the posters for his proposed “Christatora Treatment Center” plastered all over the sidewalk scaffolding, McWater said, “He thinks we don’t want these people. Tell me who here among us doesn’t have a friend or family member who fits into one of these categories–homeless, people with AIDS, mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, troubled youth, parolees. I say to him, move ’em in. I will not be intimidated by it.”