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Conflict Over Assisted Living Facility Proposed for City Island

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 10, 2012 9:16am

CITY ISLAND — City Island community leaders are up in arms over a plan to develop an assisted living complex for seniors in the small-scale seaport neighborhood.

The Italian Hospital Society, Inc., based in Yonkers, has applied for a zoning variance with the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to build a four-story, 214-unit development with 100 parking spaces on City Island Avenue and Schofield Street, according to the application filed last month.

The City Island Civic Association is raising money to hire a lawyer to fight the proposal, said Barbara Dolensek, the group’s second vice president.

“Everyone on City Island is really just appalled by it,” she said. “It’s a huge apartment building on an island where we have none.”

City Island is home to fewer than 5,000 residents, and the island is less than a mile wide and about a 1.5 miles in length. The community is made of up mostly low-rise residential homes, and residents are particularly wary of development that’s inconsistent with the neighborhood’s character, Dolensek said.

“City Island is basically a small town. We’re not a high-rise community,” she said, adding that the proposed 214-units would add exponentially to the island’s population of seniors.

“We don’t want this to become an old-age colony,” she said.

But Dr. Domenico Mignone, president of the Italian Hospital Society, the not-for-profit that applied for the variance and is in the process of buying the site, says he doesn’t understand the Civic Association’s objections. There are other buildings already on the island, including an affordable senior housing development, that are comparable in height, he said.

The plan would be the Italian Hospital Society’s first assisted living facility, according to Mignone, a physician who practices obstetrics and gynecology in Yonkers and Manhattan. The proposal is for 200 small assisted living apartment units and 14 units of private senior housing, plus concierge services, dining areas, common lounge spaces and a fitness center.

“We’re offering a service that really needs to be offered,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re afraid of.”

The site of the proposed development is currently a fenced-in lot used for open storage. Someone recently hung a large poster on the fence--reminiscent of the iconic Obama “Hope,” image--but with Mignone’s face on it instead.

“Mr. Mignone,” it reads, in large capital letters, “City Island Says Nope.”

The sign was removed over the weekend, according to a resident. But Mignone says he feels he’s being personally targeted by those who are against the project.

“I’m offended,” Mignone said. “There’s a campaign of misinformation — a smear campaign against me personally.”

The site of the proposal is currently zoned for light industrial use, retail or offices, but does not allow for residential use, which is why Mignone applied for a variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals. A BSA spokesman said the board has reviewed the application, but that a hearing on the proposal hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Mignone says the current zoning allows for the construction of buildings larger than the one he has planned.

“Someone else could build an office building that’s even bigger,” he said. “I don’t understand the objection against seniors. They’re going to be great neighbors.”

One longtime resident, who owns a shop nearby but asked not to be named, said he was skeptical about the size of the potential project, and the fact that the community doesn’t know much about the developer.

“I believe that things have to move forward,” he said. “But some things aren’t good for the island.”

Dolensek said the Civic Association worries that if the variance is approved, Mignone would have free reign to develop whatever he wants on the site. But the doctor insists his only plan in seeking the variance is for the assisted living facility, and vehemently denied rumors that it could be used for Section 8 housing.

“It can never be anything but assisted living,” if the variance is approved, he said. “It can never be Section 8.”

But Dolensek argues the island isn’t suited for assisted living. The main road gets jammed with traffic during the summer season, and City Island overall lacks the infrastructure needed to serve a more fragile population, she said.

“There are no medical facilities to speak of,” she said. “We have one fire house and one EMT truck.”

“It just seems like it’s being put together by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said.

Mignone said the Italian Hospital Society will make a formal presentation of its plan to Bronx Community Board 10 in November.