How the city conspired with billionaire Aaron Sosnick to withhold information from the East Village community
Gregg Singer is the owner of the former P.S. 64 building near Tompkins Square Park. For years, he has been attempting to redevelop the property into college dormitories for students in the East Village. What should have been a simple “as of right” project turned into a nearly decade-long scheme conceived by the mayor’s office to keep Mr. Singer from developing his privately-owned property and, instead, hand it all over to a wannabe real estate developer—Bill de Blasio’s benefactor Aaron M. Sosnick of A.R.T. Advisors LLC, affiliated with Caxton Associates LP.
This backdoor dealing and improper behind the scenes interference is revealed in a series of e-mails the city attempted to conceal. In one dated June 27th, 2016 a lawyer in an exchange with Mr. Sosnick stated, “The bottom line is if the developer produces a [dorm] lease that fits all the legal requirements then we are not going to be able to stop this…we face long odds of stopping the occupancy of this building in a dorm format if the developer brings a legally qualified tenant.”
That is exactly what happened. In August of 2016 Singer entered into a 10-year lease agreement with Adelphi University allowing occupancy of the second and third floors of the former P.S. 64 building. A withheld email from 2016 between DOB Assistant Commissioner Patrick Wehle and City Hall official Yume Kitasei confirms that “we [the DOB] reviewed the lease for Adelphi at 605 E. 9th Street, and we are ok with it. We will be lifting the stop work order and issuing the permit.” The Wehle correspondence establishes that Singer’s Adelphi lease was approved, and that the DOB had determined that Singer met all of its legal and regulatory requirements.
The DOB was set to issue work permits, if not for the improper influence of Sosnick’s cash coupled with the city’s desire to break and contort its own laws. Over the years, Mr. Singer has offered a multitude of alternative uses for the building, such as affordable low-income housing, homeless housing, a drug rehabilitation center, and a veterans center. But time after time, despite meeting all requirements, the city finds a new reason to deny the lease, and publicizes efforts to purchase the building. Yet, offers do not roll in from the City of New York. It has become evidently clear that this determination is not about some dorm building, only about securing the building for use by Aaron Sosnick. So, despite being approved internally nearly one year ago, the DOB proceeded to drag its feet, dissemble, and prevaricate for another 266 days before lowering the boom that they had invented a new basis for deciding not to approve the lease.
Even worse, while Singer was awaiting the DOB’s review of the Adelphi lease, the city was attempting to hide its tortious interference with his contractual rights, especially when the city has consistently argued in court and elsewhere that it wasn’t futile for Mr. Singer to seek administrative appeals when in fact the system had been systematically rigged. It was entirely hidden that his lease had been approved and his permits greenlighted and then deep-sixed because of hidden and illegal lobbying.
All of this information, including that the building lease was approved by the DOB in August of 2016, was withheld from Mr. Singer, the court, and the public for over four years. Meanwhile, the community obtained over 1,600 signatures in support of the dormitory project, which was acknowledged and ignored by the assistant commissioner of external affairs at the Department of Buildings.
All this time, Bill de Blasio, under the influence of billionaire political donor Aaron Sosnick, interfered with a government agency’s ability to follow the law and used it to deny Singer’s “as of right” building permit. Extrapolating from a report done by Economics Research Associates, the community has already missed out on over $300 million of expenditures that would have been spent in the community had the lease been approved and the building been occupied.
And at that estimate, the mayor and Mr. Sosnick’s secret lobbyists took a bow.