EAST WILLIAMSBURG — A day care center serving low-income parents is being evicted after a judge ruled that the city failed to do proper lease renewal paperwork — calling the city's behavior "akin to the nonsensical tea party in Alice in Wonderland," according to officials and court documents.
Bushwick United Learning Center, funded by the city's Administration for Children's Services, must leave its location at 152 Manhattan Ave. by the end of the year after the landlord won an eviction case against the city, a court order and attorney for landlord Mondshein's Clothing Center said.
The city's most recent 10-year lease on the building, which has housed some form of subsidized day care since it was built in 1963, ended in 2013.
The building, which has been under contract for months, will be officially sold "in the ballpark" of $4 million next year, with the "valid" assumption that condos will be built, the landlord's attorney Anthony Cornicello said.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, parents and day care officials called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and ACS Friday morning to find a way to keep the day care open, pointing to the mayor's professed dedication to early childhood learning for all.
Without the center, which serves more than 100 children who live in public housing, parents will be forced to send their kids to spots much further from their homes, they said.
"What's left for us?" said parent and Williamsburg Houses resident Lavonne McLamb.
But the city had a chance to keep the early learning center open, a court order written by Justice Katherine Levine showed.
In 2011, the landlord and the city negotiated a new six-year lease for the property, according to the court order finalized in June. Mondshein's owner sent his consent for the lease to the city in 2012.
But the city "improperly listed and typed" the name of the official whose signature was needed for a lease renewal: a deputy commissioner with the Department of Citywide Adminstrative Services. The city requested that the landlord reissue a notarized lease due to the error.
Yet, the city did not include the corrected documents in requests to the landlord, a misstep the city called a "procedural complication," the court order shows.
Mondshein's did not respond to the city's emails.
When the city "finally" sent the landlord all the proper documentation in January 2013, it sent it to the wrong address, 577 Grand Avenue instead of 577 Grand Street, Levine wrote.
And when it resent the lease to the correct address a couple of weeks later, it "curiously" still did not include the proper DCAS signature needed to finalize the lease renewal, "for some unknown reason," the judge wrote.
By February 2013, the landlord decided he did not want to renew the lease and asked the city to leave 152 Manhattan Ave. He instead put the building under contract with a buyer.
After receiving the rejection notice, the proper DCAS official signed her name to the original lease renewal and return it to the landlord.
Though the landlord had signed the original copy, Levine ruled that the original lease was no longer valid.
The city's "repeated failure" to get the proper signature was "confounding," Levine wrote.
"Akin to the nonsensical tea party in Alice in Wonderland," Levine wrote, "the City wasted approximately one and a half months by repeatedly apprising the landlord that it had made a mistake by sending the original signature page [with the former DCAS official's name], without ever sending the revised signature page with the actual signature of the current Deputy Commissioner!"
ACS said in a statement that it is actively working with City Hall, elected officials and city agencies to find solutions for the children who use Bushwick United Learning Center.
A spokesman did not say what additional steps are being taken to keep the center open.
"We will continue working to ensure that the best interests of the children are prioritized," he said in a statement.
The mayor's press office referred all questions to ACS.
Reynoso and locals hope that de Blasio and ACS will allocate capital funds to buy the property and keep it in city ownership for the long term.
The property could perhaps be used for both the daycare and affordabe housing, advocates suggested.
With so many residents being displaced by gentrification in Williamsburg, the services for low-income families are needed more than ever to keep the neighborhood alive, they said.
"Every single day, we're losing more options," Reynoso said. "To me, [buying this place] is an investment."