The dubious plan to sell the Lower East Side's House of Sages synagogue and nursing home is still sparking controversy amongst the congregation and two warring developers. The New York Times is reporting in the wake of the Observer's breakaway story that developer Peter Fine has been trying to purchase the Williamsburg Bridge-adjacent property at 25 Bialystoker Place for over a year. "We want to do something very special for the neighborhood," Fine told the Times, "I'm not sure if it will be all condominiums, or rentals. And probably some affordability."
Fine is eyeing the House of Sages, an adjacent empty lot, as well as air rights from the neighboring Bialystoker Synagogue as an assemblage for the tower. In 2014, Fine reached a deal with House of Sages to buy the property for a mere $13 million, but efforts to buy Bialystoker Synagogue's air rights were allegedly thwarted by the son of Bialystoker's rabbi, Baruch Singer, who is a major landlord in the city.
Now, an orchestrating member of the House of Sages deal with Peter Fine is claiming that Singer is the person raising the alarms on the sale of the House of Sages property, inciting that it may be fishy businessas explored in the Observer pieceonly so that he himself may take advantage of the property.
What doesn't hold water for the Fine and House of Sages deal is the strange trail of transactions it would leave in its wake: the sale would create a $3 million endowment for the House of Sages congregation, with the remaining $10 million going to a different Hassidic sect in Brooklyn. The agreement also included a $48,000 a year rent stipend for a synagogue in Kew Gardens where members of House of Sages would be invited to pray, despite its distance from its Lower East Side congregation and the observant congregation's inability to travel on anything but foot during the Sabbath. Also, the Kew Gardens synagogue receiving the stipend is attached to the home of House of Sages' operator.
Should the sale go through, Peter Fine has agreed to add a new synagogue to his development.
· Congregants Challenge Sale of Bulwark of Judaism on Lower East Side [NYT]
· Lower East Side Synagogue's Possible Sale Sparks Scandal [Curbed]
· Mapping 26 Houses of Worship Being Replaced By Condos [Curbed]