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Stringer Vows to Fight Controversial 20 Story Nursing Home on UWS

By Emily Frost | July 24, 2012 1:33pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — A fight against a 20-story nursing home planned for the Upper West Side has been joined by the Manhattan Borough President.

Scott Stringer pledged to throw his weight behind a push to halt a proposal by Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL)  to build the home at 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus, next to the public elementary school PS 163.

He said the construction would put schoolchildren at risk. Opponents also said there has been little transparency in the approval process.

Although Community Board 7, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and State Senator Bill Perkins have all recommended the project go through a public review process, which would include an environmental review, the City Planning Commission approved the project in March and determined a public review process was unnecessary.

Construction of the $250 million facility is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2014, with a projected move-in date in the spring of 2017, a rep for JHL said.

"I'm not going to let them do anything to harm our children or residents," Stringer reassured an anxious crowd at a town hall meeting last week. "My office is trying to put road blocks up."

"I'm angry," Stringer added, saying he had received complaints that the senior center "has treated people distastefully."

Stringer said his office is working to prove that the project does not allow the necessary amount of open space to be in compliance with zoning regulations.

"We've already calculated that there isn't enough public space [in the current proposal]," said Stringer.

Stringer promised a public meeting with the Department of Health would be held in September, when the safety concerns of the community can be discussed more fully.

JHL spokesman Ethan Geto said the company's attorneys and consultants went over the proposal in extreme detail to make sure it conformed to zoning regulations regarding open space.

Geto said if the Department of Buildings, which is reviewing the plan now, issued a Foundation Permit, that would represent a conclusive dismissal of Stringer's concern. 

If the plan receives a Foundation Permit, it will then only need a Certificate of Need from the state, certifying that the facility would not create an overproduction of nursing beds in the area. Geto said he is confidenct JHL will receive both approvals by the fall. 

Geto added that the project is designed to create "the leading, state-of-the-art nursing home in the U.S., that is both environmentally-friendly and maximizes the dignity and independence of residents."

Geto said that with the city and state's stringent safety regulations, "we will be held to the absolute highest safety standards during construction." 

Geto said JHL would limit construction during school months to times when students aren't coming and going from school. JHL has also proposed creating a construction coordinating committee to keep lines of dialogue open, with meetings for key stakeholders on a regular basis and a community advisory board to give input both on the construction project and JHL's presence on the block. 

JHL has suggested a 24-hour hotline for neighbors to register concerns during construction. 

But residents like Avery Brandon, who lives across the street from the proposed site and whose daughter is starting kindergarten in September at PS 163, told city officials "a hotline won't help."

"There's no way to protect our children from dynamite blasts," said Brandon, who is also concerned about the threat of construction cranes looming over the school.

Brandon, who is part of an opposition  coalition which is fighting the development, pressed Stringer to be more specific about other ways he's going to stop the project.

She and other parents believe the construction will adversely affect their children's development. They're also concerned about pedestrian safety, and the effects of noise and dust. 

"The chronic stress will lead to learned helplessness [among students]," said Brandon.

The history of the proposed senior site is mired in controversy, and red tape from prior arrangements could threaten to scuttle the deal.

The Park West Village Tenants' Association filed a lawsuit this spring, arguing that a plan between JHL and Chetrit development that gave JHL the development rights to their Chetrit-owned parking lot at 97th and 100 streets violates their right to parking under the Rent Stabilization Code.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that the parking will be able to be relocated," said Geto, and "that the project will get the green light."
He added that, because of the pending litigation, the Tenants' Association has declined to meet with JHL, but that JHL is open at all times to meeting with community organziations or representatives.