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Federal lawsuit over contested East Village school building is dismissed

The developer says the legal battle is far from over

The former P.S. 64 school building in the East Village.
Caroline Spivack/NY Curbed

After nearly two years of back and forth, a federal judge has dismissed a developer’s lawsuit alleging elected officials and residents “conspired” to thwart his plans to redevelop the former P.S. 64 school building in the East Village.

Developer Gregg Singer has long sought to convert the old schoolhouse, which has sat vacant at 605 East Ninth Street for two decades, into college dormitories, but has faced an uphill battle. Neighborhood advocates have insisted the property be transformed into a community center instead, and the Department of Buildings (DOB) served Singer with a stop-work order in 2015 after determining the project would violate the city’s Dorm Rule.

The lawsuit cited emails and other documents, arguing that opponents worked together to block the project from progressing. But U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe recently dismissed the federal claims against local officials and neighbors, and ruled that “conspiracy claims fail as a matter of law,” court documents show.

Singer’s attorneys have filed a notice of appeal and are evaluating “other options,” says Nicole Epstein, a spokesperson for the developer. Epstein claims the court “did not reach certain questions as it did not have the benefit of information that became available to us after the initial suit was filed.”

Epstein is referring to statements made by Mayor Bill de Blasio at a local media roundtable in August 2018, where de Blasio said Singer has been “exceedingly uncooperative” in talks with the city and that reacquiring the site through eminent domain is “not off the table”—at the time, Singer claimed he had yet to hear from the city on possibly buying back the building—as well as emails Singer’s attorneys received through a Freedom of Information Law request to the City Council.

“There must be limits placed upon what public actors can do who so blatantly distort public processes for the benefit of private benefactors,” Epstein said in a statement.

Singer renewed allegations made in the federal challenge in a similar Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed in September. That case is still pending. A city spokesperson says the de Blasio administration is satisfied with the court’s ruling and stands ready to defend itself.

“We’re pleased the court has dismissed yet another one of Mr. Singer’s cases,” said Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department. “We’ll continue to defend against these baseless claims.”

October 13 marked the two year anniversary that de Blasio announced at an East Village town hall that the city wants to reclaim the building. Singer purchased the parcel at an auction held by the Rudolph Giuliani administration for $3.15 million in 1998.

Before the building was sold to Singer, it housed the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center, and some neighborhood advocates, including former and current elected officials, have tirelessly called for the site to be returned to the neighborhood as a community center.

In the two years since de Blasio’s pledge, Singer claims he has yet to receive an offer to purchase the property. The city has been consistently vague on the steps it is taking toward reacquiring the building. Mayoral spokesperson Jane Meyer said City Hall is “considering options in regards to this building.”

East Village City Council member Carlina Rivera blasted the mayor’s office for its lack of answers at a September town hall on the building, hosted by Manhattan Community Board 3’s arts and cultural affairs subcommittee, and called on the city to “fulfill its promise.”

“It’s embarrassing for the city of New York, as progressive and wealthy as it is, to continue to not give us answers,” said Rivera. “That building is deteriorating, and it’s going to waste.”

P.S. 64

350 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10009