To say that representatives of Jewish Home Lifecare were in enemy territory at last week’s hearing on their proposal to build a nursing home on the Upper West Side would be an understatement.
During their 20-minute presentation, there were a half-dozen outbursts from the crowd, which occasionally led to a 30-second break for applause from the hundreds of parents, residents and elected leaders who attended the hearing to protest.
JHL wants to build a 20-story nursing home at West 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues to replace its existing facility on West 106th Street, which they say has reached the end of its useful life and is a huge financial drain on the non-profit organization.
Problem is, say local residents and elected leaders, they want to build directly adjacent to P.S. 163 on a parking lot that is shot through with lead contamination. Opponents of the plan say construction will make it impossible for the elementary school children to concentrate over the two to three years it will take to build.
They also complain about the impact the construction will have on traffic along the West 97th Street corridor, to say nothing of safety concerns that come with mounting a crane in close proximity to a school.
JHL, for its part, has vowed to be a good neighbor and listen to the community’s concerns, mitigating the construction’s impact where it can. The lead in the parking lot will be removed in accordance with a remedial plan sanctioned by the state, and air around the construction site will be monitored for contaminants. A robust watering plan will be in place for all demolition, excavation and transfer of soils during construction to minimize dust emissions. Stations will be established for washing the wheels of trucks exiting the construction zone. Noise suppressing equipment will be installed. Supply deliveries to the construction site will be made outside of the school’s peak commuting hours, says JHL.
But residents have remained staunchly unconvinced by JHL’s overtures. Their dissatisfaction came to a head over two days of hearings at P.S. 163 last week on the state Department of Health’s draft environmental impact statement. They’ve accused the DOH of being overly accommodating to the developer and papering over serious concerns from the community. At one point, P.S. 163 students were deployed with handmade signs to parade in front of the assembly. The moderator was booed into oblivion after he told one young student to move to the back of the room.
State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell called JHL’s promises “a fiction” and said the traffic mitigation efforts on West 97th Street are grossly inadequate.
“You can’t build at this size and scale – at this level – without permanently impacting the quality of life of everyone who lives around it, and most importantly, potentially threatening the health of the children,” said O’Donnell.
Councilman Mark Levine said the DOH’s draft environmental impact statement does nothing to allay residents’ fears that construction of the nursing home will have an adverse impact on their children’s learning and health.
“Four people in this neighborhood have been killed since the beginning of this calendar year, including a nine-year-old. How did you take that into account with the extra traffic?” said parent Josh Kross. “This construction plan has countless flaws in regards to safety and noise, contaminants, traffic and crowding. They’ve paid a lot of lip service to our concerns, but their actions have only reflected one: their bottom line.”
The dozens of speakers who testified against JHL – including doctors, obstetricians, engineers, architects and other experts – gave a different variation on the same theme; the community doesn’t want construction of a 20-story building in a residential area directly adjacent to a school.
The state DOH and JHL will now issue a final environmental impact statement, and the DOH will decide whether or not to grant final approval.
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