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De Blasio Throws Support Behind Controversial JHL Nursing Home Project

By Emily Frost | March 24, 2016 2:50pm
 A rendering of Jewish Home Lifecare's planned nursing home on 97th Street.
A rendering of Jewish Home Lifecare's planned nursing home on 97th Street.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Mayor Bill de Blasio has thrown his support behind the developer of a controversial nursing home planned to rise next to a school, arguing that the project is safe and the state shouldn't have to redo its environmental review following a victory by opponents in court.

For years, parents and residents who would be affected by the project have called upon the mayor to join other elected officials in opposing it.

However, De Blasio's Office of Sustainability is seeking to overturn a Dec. 9 decision that blocked Jewish Home Lifecare's construction of the 20-story nursing home on West 97th Street, next to elementary school P.S. 163 and a residential complex.

In December, the State Supreme Court ruling "vacated and annulled" parts of the state's environmental review of the development, forcing the state to redo "its findings on the issue of noise and hazardous material" that could be caused by the multi-year construction.

Opponents were thrilled by the decision, which JHL is fighting in court. 

In an amicus brief filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court, Esther Brunner, deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, argued the state's environmental review should not be subject to "second guessing" and that the court "overstepped" by reversing the approval.

The state Department of Health used the city's environmental review guidelines in making its initial determination to give JHL the green light, Brunner explains. Therefore, by extension, the court's decision to overturn the state's approval challenges the city's review process. 

The decision sets a bad precedent, as opponents of future construction projects could argue that the environmental review process is ineffectual while pointing to JHL's case as evidence, the brief argues.

The environmental review manual the city uses was developed in 1993 and is continually updated, the brief adds. 

"If the methodologies and standards of the [City Environmental Quality Review] Technical Manual are subject to second guessing by courts based on experts hired by opposing parties on individual projects, the City's goal of high quality, efficient and consistent environmental review would be unachievable, discretionary decision-making by City agencies would be severely hindered, and predictability for applicants would suffer," the brief states.

It goes on to argue that in terms of noise and hazardous materials, the standards in the city's manual are accepted, well-established and should not be questioned. Thus, the state's initial determinations that noise and hazardous materials produced by construction were acceptable should not be questioned either, the brief states. 

Parents at P.S. 163, the elementary school sitting next to the proposed construction site between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, were outraged by the mayor's support of the project.

"It's pretty sad that the Mayor would side with developers in the face of a New York State Court decision that held that the New York State Department of Health did not adequately protect the health and welfare of the children, teachers and staff at P.S. 163 when the agency approved a massive construction project a few feet from our public elementary school," said Josh Kross, a parent at the school and a member of the opposition group Protect P.S. 163.

"We would have expected a Mayor who has professed a commitment to low-income communities and public school children to stand with us and not against us. We believe this shows his true intention to support rich developers every chance he gets."

In a statement, the Mayor's Office said its brief was only filed to defend the environmental impact review process.

"The city’s brief is solely in regards to the technical standards used to evaluate potential environmental impacts. We take the concerns of the parents and community very seriously.”

The state Department of Health did not immediately responded to request for comment.

"Jewish Home Lifecare has believed all along that not only did it fully comply with the state environmental review process but that in fact it took a number of steps that exceeded the environmental review requirements," JHL spokesman Ethan Geto said.

"We feel more justified than ever in this belief given the strongly supportive brief submitted by the City of New York affirming that the environmental review process was conducted properly and with integrity and that the State Supreme Court’s decision was inappropriate."

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