East Village activists were surprised to learn recently that the city’s Department of Buildings had issued new work permits for 605 E. 9th Street, the former public school that served as the CHARAS-El Bohio community center for two decades, until it was sold by the Giuliani administration to a private developer in 1998.
Since 2001, when developer Gregg Singer succeeded in evicting CHARAS from the building, the structure has sat unused, while Singer has proven unable to develop the site in conformance with the law (to say nothing of community wishes), and numerous local residents have pined for the vital hub of art, recreation and community that was lost.
A condition of the sale was that the property would be developed as a “community facility” as defined in the city’s zoning text (see p. 5 here). Singer has pursued fulfilling “Use Group 3,” a student dormitory, but has failed to obtain the contracts with qualifying institutions (such as four-year, degree-granting schools) that would constitute a dorm rather than simply an apartment building. Although Singer apparently has made inroads in making some sort of agreements with Cooper Union and the Joffrey Ballet School to occupy the space, activists have scrutinized the agreements (and lack of agreements), and found them wanting.
That’s what led to September’s celebration of a Stop Work Order issued by DOB, after it erroneously approved permits that would have allowed dorm development to begin. At the event last fall, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez was joined by Borough President Gale Brewer, U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez, State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, GVSHP and many others in calling for the building’s return to the community.
Despite Mendez’s several letters to DOB and requests to be informed of changes to the status of the property, she was among those surprised to see new approvals granted to the project on the DOB website. At a meeting earlier this week of the SOCCC-64 (Save Our Charas Community Center PS 64) steering committee, Mendez said she was deeply frustrated with DOB’s apparent lack of oversight, issuing permits when the developer still does not appear to be adhering to the requirements of the community facility use restriction: that is, signed leases with qualifying institutions, rather than promises of leases with organizations that may or may not qualify.
DOB spokesman Alexander Schnell said today that the Stop Work Order issued Sept. 22, 2014 was rescinded on June 22, 2015. Asked how the six audit objections cited (see p. 3 here) were resolved, Schnell wrote in an e-mail that “The plans were amended to include dance studios/rooms as necessary to make the application an as-of-right development,” and work can commence to renovate the building.
“We continue to work with Council Member Mendez to ensure that that the necessary agreements are in place to operate this facility in compliance with the NYC Construction Codes and Zoning Resolution,” Schnell wrote.
Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has not responded to activists’ delivery of holiday cards on Three Kings Day, January 6, asking for his help in reclaiming the building for the community.
GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman said, “The Department of Buildings’ lifting of the stop work order and granting of the permits is mystifying, in light of the many outstanding, unresolved issues around this application and its lack of conformance with the law. We’re working closely with fellow community groups, the community board, elected officials and especially Councilmember Rosie Mendez to ensure that this inappropriate, illegal development does not move ahead, and that the former PS 64/CHARAS – El Bohio is ultimately returned to a real community use which truly benefits this neighborhood.”