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Parents at UWS Elementary School Sue to Stop Nursing Home Construction

By Emily Frost | March 26, 2015 2:07pm | Updated on March 30, 2015 8:59am
 Parents at P.S. 163 filed a lawsuit claiming the state acted irresponsibly in approving the JHL nursing home on West 97th Stret. 
Parents File Suit to Stop Development
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Parents from P.S. 163 are suing the state in hopes of halting construction of a 20-story nursing home next door to the school.

Parents fear that once work on the nursing home commences this year, their kids will be subjected to "loud and dangerous construction that threatens to significantly harm the schools' ability to teach and for their children to learn," according to a statement.

The state Department of Health acted irresponsibly by approving Jewish Home Lifecare's plans to build the West 97th Street nursing home so close to a school, said the lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Parents, who are being represented pro bono by attorney Rene Kathawala from Orick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, who is also a parent at the school, are hoping to stall construction or prevent the project altogether. They've been planning to sue for months, after learning the state had given its final approval of the plan this past December. 

The lawsuit demands the state redo its environmental review and ensure that stronger mitigation measures to protect the children from noise and hazardous materials are put in place.

Elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell and City Councilmember Mark Levine, have also thrown their support behind the lawsuit.

Kathawala has hired pediatric health experts, an acoustical engineer and environmental engineers to show that the state's approval was unfounded because JHL's mitigation plans don't go far enough in protecting their kids from noise and dangerous work, he said.

The state Department of Health declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The developer needed to apply for a Certificate of Need from the DOH in order to build a nursing home there, and the agency ordered an environmental review of the site before it gave its approval.

Even if the parents's lawsuit isn't successful, they're hoping the action will at least buy them time, Kathawala said.

"A rational developer will not go forward with the construction" during litigation, he said.  

However, JHL spokesman Ethan Geto said construction — now slated to begin the last quarter of 2015 —would move forward whether or not litigation is pending. 

The nonprofit is "well positioned to defend against the litigation since the state environmental vetting process was exhaustive and the project was approved after intense, extensive review," he said. 

JHL Senior Vice President Bruce Nathanson characterized the lawsuit as hyperbolic and a "sad" and "misguided" effort to derail a much-needed project. He added that JHL has gone "beyond standard industry practice and regulatory mandates" to make sure students and residents are safe during construction.  

Meanwhile, parents are hoping a new bill introduced by Levine will impose new requirements in terms of noise levels for developers trying to do construction near schools, Kathwala noted.

The bill, Intro 420, currently has 20 sponsors and needs to be passed by the Council's Committee on Environmental Protection before it goes before the full Council for a vote. 

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