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MAS Aids in Legal Victory Against Speculative Dorm Developer

el bohio ps 64

On March 25, the New York State Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that an East Village developer could not build a 19 story dormitory without a commitment from an educational institution. The decision dealt a major blow to unscrupulous developers and signaled a major step forward in the protection of a New York City-designated landmark school building.

MAS filed an amicus brief in support of the Department of Building’s requirement that a developer show a connection with an educational institution sufficient to persuade it that the building, when built, really would be a dormitory. In 2001, developer Gregg Singer proposed a tower on the site of P.S. 64, a landmark school building on E. 9th St. and Ave. B designed by the city’s most prolific school architect, C.B.J. Snyder, and constructed in 1904. From the late 1970s until it was sold by the city in 1998, the East Village community utilized the unique design of P.S. 64 for a community facility and arts space known as Charas/El Bohio.

The city’s zoning resolution allows for the construction of larger-than-normal buildings if the developer includes a community facility use, including dormitories.

Singer planned to use the community facilities provision to build a 19 story dormitory in a neighborhood characterized by 4 to 6 story tenement buildings. In 2004, the Department of Buildings denied his application, because Singer could not demonstrate that he had an educational institution lined up to use the building.

On Tuesday the highest court in the state backed the Department’s ruling. “Where there is reason to doubt that a proposed structure can be used for a lawful purpose, municipal authorities are not required to let the property owner build the building and see what happens,” said the court.

If the building was constructed and Singer was still unable to find an educational institution the city could require it be demolished, demand the developer find another community facility use, or simply waive the legal restrictions. We have already seen this situation occur in the East Village at 81 E. 3rd St.

But the fight is not over. The Former P.S. 64 was designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006, but it has suffered from neglect and partial demolition. This handsome Baroque Revival style building was designed by C.B.J. Snyder, while he was at his creative and inventive peak. Like Snyder’s other schools, many of which are designated landmarks, this one features Snyder’s characteristic H-plan, which provided light and air. Of particular importance, is the ground-floor auditorium, an innovation introduced by Snyder, which allowed schools to function as community centers, providing a space for after-hours lectures, events and educational programs.

The MAS will continue to support efforts to preserve this landmark building and its use as a community space. Here is a brief timeline of the P.S. 64/Charas/El Bohio Matter:

  • 1998: Building sold to Gregg Singer for $3.1 million
  • 2004: Department of Buildings rejects application for 19 story building because Singer was unable to show a lease agreement with an educational institution
  • 2005: Board of Standards and Appeals upholds DOB ruling
  • 2006: Landmarks Preservation Commission designates Former P.S. 64/Charas an individual landmark.
  • 2006: State court upholds the Board of Standards and Appeals ruling.
  • 2007: Appellate court reverses state court ruling
  • March 25, 2008: Court of Appeals reversed the appellate court’s ruling