A group of Lower East Side residents got a big boost from a state supreme court judge this past week in their campaign to block the sale of the Home of the Sages nursing home building at 25 Bialystoker Place.
A deal has been in the works since early this year to sell the site to developer Peter Fine for $13 million. Questions were raised after it became known that $3 million from the transaction would be going to fund a synagogue at the Queens home of Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi (the board president), with the rest being sent to a religious group in Israel.
In a ruling dated October 19, Judge Geoffrey Wright said he was putting the sale on hold until the court can determine the legitimacy of the board of directors and decide whether the transaction is on the up-and-up.
The state attorney general as well as the court must approve all property sales involving not-for-profit corporations. A group led by local developer Baruch Singer has objected to this deal, arguing that several people with no ties to the Lower East Side seized control of the board. The Home of the Sages building includes a handicap-accessible synagogue (the only one of its kind in the neighborhood).
During a June court hearing, Assistant Attorney General Michele Abeles appeared to offer support for the transaction, but her statements to Judge Wright were not particularly clear. He asked for clarification from the AG’s charites bureau. In an August 10 letter to the court, Abeles wrote:
The Attorney General requests that the court make a determination as to which individuals are properly board members and members and also as to whether the transaction was properly approved. The Attorney General is not in a position to adjudicate these issues and for this reason refers them to the court.
In the New York Post, David Jaroslawicz, the lawyer leading the charge against the land deal, said:
The sale can’t go forward until we take the testimony of ten people from Brooklyn who say they are on the board — at other times they say they are trustees — and we find out more about who this ultra right wing sect (in Israel) is that is getting $10 million from the sale. I look forward to having them raise their right hands and try to explain this. It’s outrageous.
Attorneys for the group in control of the Home of the Sages argue that Singer has no standing to object to the sale. Fine has offered to provide space for the synagogue in the new residential project he plans on building where the nursing home currently sits. Fine also has a deal in the works to purchase a parking lot located behind the nursing home (on Pitt Street), as well as air rights from the nearby Bialystoker Synagogue.
Baruch Singer has said he has no interest in developing the Home of the Sages site himself. The legal challenge, Singer contends, is driven by his desire to protect the legacy of his father, who was rabbi of the Bialystoker Synagogue for many years.