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Pols Propose New Law to Curb Construction Near Schools at Rally

By Emily Frost | May 8, 2014 3:07pm
 Parents from P.S. 163 staged a large rally to protest a new 20-story nursing home being built next door. 
Opposition to JHL Nursing Home Mounts at Rally
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UPPER WEST SIDE — In a final push before the state makes its ruling on a proposed controversial nursing home development, dozens of children and their parents gathered in front of P.S. 163 Thursday morning to oppose the project — with local politicians announcing plans for a bill they hope could stop the project or mitigate its impact on the school. 

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and Councilman Mark Levine announced they'll be introducing a law that would require developers like Jewish Home Lifecare to get Council approval before building within 50 feet of a public school.

The law would also require projects within that 50-feet zone to follow Council-approved guidelines for construction, which would be stricter in terms of noise and building activity to make development safer for children and less disruptive to learning. 

Opposition to Jewish Home Lifecare's plan to build a new 20-story nursing home next to the West 97th Street elementary school reached a fever pitch this week as locals are making a final plea to state health officials to stop the development at a series of hearings.

They argue the project is unsafe and will dig up harmful levels of lead during construction, as well as create traffic, noise, dust and general chaos.

After reviewing the testimony, the state's Department of Health will release a final Environmental Impact Statement with its assessment of whether the project can go forward. A "negative declaration" would mean the state ruled the project does not have a "a significant adverse environmental impact."

If approved, development construction will begin in the late fall of 2014, said JHL spokesman Ethan Geto. 

Adina Brooks, the mother of a P.S. 163 first-grader and co-chair of the Protect P.S. 163 coalition, said she and other parents support the legislation because it would protect not only their school but other city schools from the potential hazards of neighboring development. 

Even if the state gave its approval, the legislation could require the developer to again apply for city approval before proceeding, she said.

In a worst-case scenario, "our hope is that the law would require the noise limit to be what is appropriate for a classroom," she said. 

At the rally, Brooks played audio samples from what she said were real construction sites to showcase how distracting and distressing the noise would be. 

JHL has promised to listen the concerns of parents and neighbors.

"We believe that the plan we have developed...will minimize noise, dust and traffic, ensure the safe removal and/or treatment of contaminated soil and maximize the safety of the construction site and surrounding areas," the nonprofit said in a statement. 

The developer promised to never have a crane over the school, to put up netting to protect the school building, to use noise-suppressing equipment, to erect a 10-foot high noise barrier and to make deliveries during non-school hours, among other measures. 

But these promises have not satisfied parents who said the noise will make it impossible for kids to concentrate, while the dust and debris will make breathing difficult. 

The final NYDOH hearing will be held Thursday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. in the P.S. 163 auditorium at 163 West 97th Street.