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Speaking to hundreds who attended a November East Bronx town hall meeting on a proposed drug treatment center, Councilmember Mark Gjonaj left no doubt: “The deal is dead.”
He was referring to Carnegie Hill Institute’s heavily opposed plans to open an outpatient clinic at 2500 Williamsbridge Road in Allerton.
But city property records show the Carnegie Hill Institute, operating as CHI LLC, quietly purchased the property on Feb. 17, for $925,000.
News of the deal stunned Gjonaj and other local officials, who said they didn’t learn of the sale until contacted this week by Roxanne Delgado, a local resident who found record of the purchase online.
“I almost passed out when I saw the deed,” she told THE CITY.
Gjonaj’s office was not notified of the arrangement, a spokesperson told THE CITY Tuesday morning.
“We literally are just finding out,” said Reginald Johnson, a Gjonaj spokesperson.
One Buyer, Then Another
The building had been listed for sale by Exit Realty Group, whose president, Sonny Vataj, served as Gjonaj’s chief of staff when the city lawmaker was a state Assembly member.
Vataj told THE CITY that when the property went to contract, the deal was done under a different entity’s name. “An individual came in, acquired the property as WBRD LLC,” Vataj said.
“The day this property closed, changed hands,” Vataj added, “the actual deed transfer was in someone else’s name” — CHI LLC.
No business going by WBRD LLC or any similar name is registered in New York.
Alma Mandija, the lawyer representing the buyer, declined comment on the sale.
The seller of the property, Florence Klapper — whose late husband ran a title insurance agency from the building — did not respond to a request for comment.
Also caught off guard was the leadership of Bronx Community Board 11, which unanimously voted in November to ask state elected officials to create a notification process for proposed drug treatment facilities.
The board urged officials to require at least a 60-days heads up, said Jeremy Warneke, CB 11’s district manager.
But before legislation could be drafted, Carnegie Hill successfully purchased the Williamsbridge Road property.
“We reached out to our elected officials on it,” Warneke said. “They were all surprised as much as we were.”
Representatives from Carnegie Hill did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
Last September, Carnegie Hill told CB 11 it planned an outpatient program that would use medications such as suboxone to help people control their addictions to drugs.
The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) told THE CITY that no application to provide services has been submitted in connection with 2500 Williamsbridge Road.
In a statement late Tuesday, Gjonaj said he reached out to the buyer but they “would not confirm the final use of the property.”
He added, “My opposition to it being used as a treatment center remains firm.”
Drug overdoses have emerged as a serious issue in the neighborhoods surrounding Carnegie Hill’s new property, with fatality rates among the top 10 worst out of the city’s 59 community districts.
While drug use is a concern in the community, residents have complained the location of the proposed facility is too close to P.S. 89, two Catholic schools, Christopher Columbus High School and a playground.
“This has no place near any school,” said Delgado, who lives in the Pelham Parkway area.
She’s not unsympathetic to the ongoing substance abuse crisis in the borough, she added, but believes other sites would be more appropriate.
“Even if it was next door to my house I wouldn’t be against it,” she said. “I just don’t want it to go in front of a school.”
Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez (D-The Bronx) and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx and Westchester), agreed, telling THE CITY in November that the issue was complicated.
“Our office had just been made aware of the sale of 2500 Williamsbridge Road this morning,” Fernandez said in a statement to THE CITY on Tuesday. “Neither our office nor the local community board were privy to the knowledge of this sale.”
She added: “Further investigation is still needed.”
Area residents plan a rally on Saturday to demand that OASAS reject any application from Carnegie Hill to dispense medication-assisted treatments at the site, Delgado said.
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