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State Approves Controversial Nursing Home High-Rise Next to UWS School

By Emily Frost | November 18, 2014 6:57pm
 The state approved the project and outlined the mitigation measures JHL must take during construction. 
JHL Project Gets State Approval
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The state Department of Health has approved the building of a controversial 20-story nursing home on West 97th Street and spelled out requirements for how it will handle construction — from erecting a temporary sound barrier to ensuring lead-laden dust doesn't spread to the surrounding area.

Jewish Home Lifecare now has all the approvals it needs to begin construction on the tower at an empty parking lot between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, next to P.S. 163in early 2015. Construction is predicted to last through 2018.

The state acknowledged that the project will render balconies of two large buildings overlooking the site unusable, as well as cast large shadows on the nearby playground for several hours each morning in the fall, winter and spring.

Despite other adverse effects on the neighborhood in terms of noise, traffic and hazardous waste, which the state details in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released on Nov. 14, the project has been given the green light to proceed. 

The state's approval is contingent on JHL following the guidelines it set out for construction mitigation. 

The Department of Health acknowledged that the construction will churn up toxic substances in the ground, but that proper construction practices will cut down on exposure to dust that might contain lead and other contaminants. Such practices include, "wetting exposed soils to reduce the generation of dust, and covering soil stockpiles and haul trucks."

To cut down on construction noise, a major concern of P.S. 163 parents, JHL said it will build a 16-foot high "noise barrier" on the side of the site facing P.S. 163 and a 10-foot tall fence with "sound absorptive material" along the perimeter of the rest of the construction site. 

JHL will work with P.S. 163 to limit noisy construction activities during the yearly state test period, and has also agreed to install noise-attenuating windows and air conditioning units along the school's eastern facade, which faces the site. 

Given these measures, the state does not believe construction noise levels will harm the ears of the children or neighbors.

"Noise levels expected to result from the construction of the Proposed Project would be comparable to those from any typical construction site in New York City involving construction of a new building with concrete slab floors and foundation," the document states.

However, residents and elected officials who have fought the development for years said the newly released mitigation efforts don't go far enough. 

On the question of noise alone, the document is "woefully unsatisfactory" by not providing any noise mitigation in the school's auditorium or in the trailers used for additional classroom space, said Rene Kathawala, chairman of the parents group Protect P.S. 163, on Tuesday.

Parents are also nervous about a large crane operating on the site, which will never swing over P.S. 163 and will not be in use during severe weather, according to the agreement.

In addition to other impacts, 10 parking spaces would be lost during construction and traffic along the block will increase. Additionally, the outdoor balconies at 784 Columbus Ave. and 122 West 97th St. could experience noise levels up to 87 decibels, which are louder than the noise exposure levels recommended by the federal government, the document states. 

Once the nursing home is built, the building would cast shadows over the neighboring Happy Warrior Playground for two additional hours in the morning in the fall and spring, and for four-and-a-half hours on winter mornings, according to the document. 

Traffic along the block will increase with construction vehicles coming and going, and so the lights at the corners of West 97th Street and Columbus Avenue, as well as West 97th Stret and Amsterdam Avenue, will be retimed to allow for better traffic flow and to give pedestrians more time to cross.

Along West 97th Street, an 8-foot-wide covered pathway will be added along the existing sidewalk to provide safe passage for pedestrians. 

Tenants of the residential developments surrounding the site, including the 2,500-unit Park West Village, as well as parents at P.S. 163, have argued the construction and operation of the nursing home will wreak havoc on the neighborhood, harming their quality of life with increased noise and traffic. 

"We are very surprised as the PTA Task Force by the total disregard of the safety, health and welfare of the students, staff and teachers," said Kathawala of the state's decision.

"It's shocking how little they responded to our comments," he added.

City Councilman Mark Levine also shared his dismay at the approval. 

"We are profoundly disappointed the state has published an EIS that underplays and disregards so many of the harmful impacts of this project," he said in a statement. "Nevertheless, our fight continues in the legal and legislative arena to protect the community from this harmful project."

JHL said its mitigation measures actually go beyond what is legally required.

"We strongly believe that the mitigation package set forth in the EIS will protect the community from any possible negative impacts of construction including on the health, safety and environmental fronts," said Ethan Geto, a JHL spokesman.