Followup: Lawsuit Divides Members of Bialystoker Synagogue
Over the weekend, the New York Post reported that two high profile members of the Bialystoker Synagogue board of directors are suing the historic institution’s president, rabbi and housing committee chairman over the potential sale of an “L-shaped lot at Delancey Street and Bialystoker Place.”
The story in Saturday’s newspaper noted that the board president, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Shlomo Hagler, faced a $25 million lawsuit from Baruch Singer and Lenny Greher. According to the Post, Singer and Greher are claiming the sale of the parcel, 15-17 Bialystoker Place, violated an April 2012 ruling from a “Brooklyn rabbinical court.”
Then yesterday, Yori Yanover (former publisher of the Grand Street News) offered additional details in The Jewish Press:
The suit came after the synagogue sold in January a 127-unit low-income senior housing building it co-owns together with the UJC (United Jewish Council) on an adjacent lot for $28 million. A source in the synagogue has told The Jewish Press that the proceeds from the property sale may only be used to create new affordable housing for seniors, and not—as they had been hoping—to cover the synagogue’s financial needs. Our source pointed out that when the membership was asked to approve the sale, they were not told about this stipulation. But another source claims the limit had been spelled out. Another source has told The Jewish Press that Justice Hagler’s name is going to be removed from the suit this Monday… Baruch Singer is the son of the Bialystoker’s former Rav, Rabbi Yitzchok Singer z”l, who was involved in developing the property which is being fought over.
The story indicated that Heshy Jacob, chairman of the UJC of the East Side and a synagogue board member, is also named in the lawsuit. Back in January, Jacob told The Lo-Down that the senior housing facility, known as the Orenstein building, would continue to operate for the next 30 years before redevelopment occurred. Under terms of the deal, approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), all of the profits from the sale would be funneled back into affordable housing in New York City.
At the time, the new owner of the property was not disclosed. Months later, however, public documents revealed that the firm created to oversee 15-17 Bialystoker Place, Cam-Orensetein, was controlled by Avi Schron. Mr. Schron’s father, Ruby Schron, runs Cammeby’s International, one of New York’s most powerful real estate companies.
According to the documents, Cam-Orenstein “intends to construct a new (240,000 square foot) building” on the pacel, utilizing “excess development rights.” In June of 2012, the City Council approved a new tax exemption for the parcel. It read in part:
The (new owner) will refinance the original HUD mortgage in order to fund needed repairs, decrease debt service, and meet other financial obligations, with a loan from the New York State Housing Finance Agency (“HFA”) and low income housing tax credits. The New Owner and HFA will enter into a regulatory agreement providing that, for a term of forty (40) years, all units must be rented to elderly persons whose incomes do not exceed 60% of area median income.
The future of the Orenstein senior building is not the only property issue the synagogue has been weighing in the past couple of years. In the spring of 2012, Hagler, the board president, sent a letter to members of the congregation recommending the sale of excess air rights to Omni New York, a real estate firm. In the letter, Hagler wrote that the company had offered $200/square foot for air rights associated with the synagogue’s main building (7-11 Willett St.) and an adjoining parking lot. He referenced an “ever burgeoning deficit” and indicated the sale was necessary because the “synagogue’s buildings and infrastructure are aging and require expensive maintenance and repairs.” The members approved the potential sale, although the transaction has never surfaced in public records.
The Post story incorrectly stated that the synagogue was “once run by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,” but that he resigned from the board in 2010. Silver was never board president, although he did previously serve on the synagogue’s governing body. In that March 2012 letter from Hagler, William Rapfogel was listed as a board member. Rapfogel was removed as head of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty earlier this year when he was implicated in a sweeping corruption scandal. His name no longer appears on the synagogue’s web site, although his son, Michael, is still listed as a member of the board. The United Jewish Council of the East Side is an affiliate of the Met Council.