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(Un)Civil War Continues at Seward Park

Marianne Schaefer in Board Operations on June 28, 2016

Lower East Side

Seward Park Parking 2

One of the four towers that make up the 1,728-unit Seward Park co-op on the Lower East Side 

June 28, 2016

When the Seward Park co-op board announced a plan to convert the Lower East Side property’s 388-space garage and parking deck from park-and-lock to valet service – a move designed to shorten the waiting list for spaces while generating $200,000 in annual revenue – a group of vocal shareholders rose up to oppose the plan.

They circulated petitions, called meetings, and confronted the board at a heated open meeting on Feb. 24 of this year. Many shareholders left that meeting satisfied that valet parking was a good idea. A week later, the board announced that it had signed a 10-year contract with Icon Parking Systems. The next day, valet parking went into effect – and the volley of complaints resumed.

“There was no reason for this haste,” said Mendy Erez, a 12-year board veteran who has lived in the co-op for 38 years. “I asked to postpone it for 90 days until everything is worked out. We went about this in the wrong way. We should have informed people earlier about the change instead of hitting them over the head.”

By now the opposition was basing its challenge on the discovery that the Certificate of Occupancy was not changed to allow for the 40 percent increase in cars, or for the addition of hourly, daily and weekly parking for non-residents. Was the challenge to the C of O a valid legal point or a gratuitous roadblock? At divided Seward Park, the answer depends on whom you ask.

“Essentially, I think shareholders deserved more notice, and the board exceeded their authority,” said attorney Ezra Glaser, a partner in the firm of Conde & Glaser, who was hired by the opposition to pursue a legal challenge. “We’re going to try to get an injunction to stop the board.”

The board’s attorney Arthur Weinstein, on the other hand, said the lack of a current C of O should not delay the signing of a contract. “Those C of Os get modified and amended often,” he said. “So, why delay a profitable deal for something which can be readily corrected?”

Board treasurer Darcey Gerstein added that the city is usually grateful when additional parking spaces are created – especially on the car-choked Lower East Side – and would have gladly overlooked the issue of the C of O. “It could have been a non-issue,” she says, “but they [the opposition] made it an issue.”

The opposition filed a suit against the co-op, Icon and outgoing board president David Pass, seeking a temporary restraining order that would have suspended the valet parking arrangement until a court could deliver a decision on whether or not to invalidate the contract.

In a June 23 memo to shareholders, general manager Frank Durant wrote: “The counsel for our co-op appeared in court yesterday and successfully opposed the emergency application. Not only did the court decline to enter the restraining order the plaintiffs had requested, or any form of preliminary relief, it declined to sign any order at all since the order to show cause was rejected as improper.”

So was the court’s refusal to issue a restraining order the Appomattox of Seward Park’s uncivil war?

Durant hinted that the legal skirmishing might not be over. “We will notify (shareholders) if and when we hear anything further about...any other court filings,” he wrote. “We will continue to vigorously contest any court claims that attack our agreement with Icon or the board decisions that put that agreement in place.”

Five days after those words were written, Glaser filed a new petition in State Supreme Court. He said the opposition’s goal remains the same: “We’re seeking to invalidate the contract.”

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