A state committee approved Jewish Home Lifecare’s controversial plan to build a 20-story nursing home on the Upper West Side on Thursday, likely the last major hurdle for the development project.
The nursing home organization wants to move from its current location, on 106th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, to a new site on 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, in the middle of the Park West Village housing complex.
The state Public Health and Health Planning Council’s Committee on Establishment and Project Review voted unanimously to grant Jewish Home a Certificate of Need, which allows an organization to move forward with public health projects, following a Thursday morning hearing.
“We’re just about home free,” JHL spokesperson Ethan Geto, CC ’65, said after the decision. Groundbreaking for the new nursing home is scheduled for 2014, with move-in for residents and staff projected for spring 2017.
The project is still temporarily enjoined by a lawsuit against the developer over the removal of parking spaces at Park West Village. But many opponents of the development saw Thursday’s hearing as the last, best chance to stop it.
At the hearing, Upper West Side residents and local elected officials attacked the project, saying Jewish Home should stay at its current location. They argued that the new facility would add traffic to an already-congested thoroughfare and that construction would negatively affect students at the adjacent P.S. 163, among other concerns.
State Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, who represents parts of Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side, said that the project would “leave my constituents with a significant reduction in the quality of their life.”
“Filling in this open space has various impacts on people who live adjacent to it,” O’Donnell said. “If you went there and looked around, you would understand what I’m talking about.”
“On that block, it’s an active thoroughfare,” City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents parts of the Upper West Side, said. “The development would have a lot of impact for the school and the neighbors.”
Others expressed concern about the fact that the new facility would have 100 fewer spots for residents than the current facility.
“I think reducing the number of beds by 100 doesn’t seem credible in an era of exploding growth in elderly population,” said State Democratic Committeewoman Debra Cooper, a candidate for the Upper West Side City Council seat being vacated by Gale Brewer.
Jewish Home Lifecare executives said that they are working to resolve potential traffic problems, and that construction innovations like a sound barrier and a steel enclosure would reduce noise and keep the project site safe. The 106th Street location cannot be upgraded to the same standards that the new facility would have, they said.
“Our present facility is old and dated,” JHL Chief Executive Officer and President Audrey Weiner said, adding that the new facility “will improve care and improve the satisfaction of patients.”
The new facility will use the “green house” design model, which clusters multiple residents into “households” with shared living spaces. Robert Jenkins, director of the national Green House Project, said that the facility design would focus on “making housing more like the elders’ homes and making their lives more like they were before they entered the nursing home.” Jewish Home, he said, is “not just building a new building, but fundamentally changing the way nursing home care will look in an urban setting.”
Jenkins said that the height of the building is appropriate due to the “context of the neighborhood and cultural expectations of people living there.” Opponents, however, said the height of the building would make the “green house” model’s benefits irrelevant and would prevent residents from going outside.
“It’s really reminiscent of Sartre’s ‘No Exit,’” nursing home reform advocate and Park West Village resident Catherine Unsino said. “People will be confined and won’t be able to get outside.”
At this point, the only chance opponents have of stopping the development is filing a broader lawsuit, but several speakers at the hearing said that a lawsuit would be prohibitively expensive.
“It’s a question of how much money a community can begin to amass against a highly lucrative corporation,” Unsino said.
Public Health and Health Planning Council members at the hearing were visibly and vocally annoyed by the public testimony against the project, saying that many issues being raised were out of their purview. Some council members wandered in and out of the room during the testimony.
“How many more descriptions of traffic patterns are we going to have to listen to?” committee member Angel Gutierrez sighed, after 10 speakers expressed concern over congestion issues.
O’Donnell, though, said that opponents didn’t have a choice but to bring up all of their issues with the project.
“This is probably not the right forum to do it in, but when you give people no forum … they go to the only forum they have,” he said.