Upper West Siders loudly objected to a controversial proposal to build a high-rise nursing home in the neighborhood at a packed public meeting Tuesday night.
Jewish Home Lifecare, which operates a nursing home on 106th Street, is planning to construct the new 20-story building on 97th Street, in the middle of the Park West Village housing complex. This summer, the company was ordered to complete an Environmental Impact Statement after a study conducted by opponents of the development showed the possibility of toxic levels of lead in the construction site, which is currently a parking lot.
The meeting was held by the state Department of Health at public school P.S. 163, on 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, next to the development site. Known as a scoping meeting, it was organized to give members of the public an opportunity to comment on the scope of the EIS—how thorough it should be and what metrics it should encompass.
Locals crowded into the hot P.S. 163 auditorium to discuss the proposal, as state officials listened to a long line of JHL detractors. Only a handful of people spoke in favor of the development, as opponents grumbled loudly.
Bruce Nathanson, JHL senior vice president, said that the development would be an upgrade over JHL’s “outdated” 106th Street facility.
Nathanson said the project would be the first “Green House Model” nursing home—a progressive model intended to give nursing home residents more autonomy—in a major metropolitan area.
“This model is all about nurturing elders” and providing quality care, Nathanson said
“The building will also be a gracious and welcoming place for residents, families, volunteers and the community,” Nathanson said, adding that it would include a garden for community use and a rooftop garden for residents.
But most attendees—including parents of P.S. 163 students, residents of nearby apartment buildings, and several elected officials—raised concerns about the project’s potential to increase noise and traffic levels, encroach upon open space, and disturb P.S. 163 students and staff.
Democratic District Leader Mark Levine, who won the Democratic primary to represent the area in the City Council last week, and City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who currently represents the area, presented a joint testimony. They highlighted the proposed project’s proximity to P.S. 163, the business of traffic on the corridor, and the potentially toxic levels of lead in the parking lot.
“We simply cannot even entertain the idea of the project moving forward if there are any potential negative impacts on the health of the children of P.S. 163 or the residents of Park West Village,” Levine said, adding that the site is “one of the last vestiges of open space within the Park West Village community.”
Mark-Viverito called for an EIS that is comprehensive and “truly takes into account the voice of the community.”
State Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, who represents the area, said he has serious concerns that he expects the EIS to address.
“This proposal has potential to inflict serious harm on our community,” O’Donnell said to loud applause, adding that the project’s consequences “threaten to damage our community for years to come.”
City Council member Gale Brewer, the Democratic nominee for Manhattan Borough President, said she hopes the building isn’t built.
“These impacts will be very detrimental,” Brewer said, adding that the Department of Health should “reinvestigate” the project’s consequences.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the Democratic nominee for city Comptroller, also called for a more comprehensive consultation, and members of Community Board 7 called for a more rigorous environmental assessment.
P.S. 163 parents, several of whom testified at the meeting, raised concerns about the potential health effects of lead toxins and the distractions of dust and noise.
“What permanent damage will we do physically, emotionally, cognitively and functionally?” asked Avery Brandon, whose daughter is zoned to attend the school.
CB7 member Madelyn Innocent said she knew people who had been affected by lead poisoning, and that the project could “stifle the dreams and hopes” of kids and parents.
Not all of the concerns were quite as serious. Reverend Heidi Neumark, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church on 100th Street near Amsterdam Avenue, said the proposed building would cast shadows on the “rare enamel and stained glass” windows in the Gothic Revival church.
Despite the litany of objections, JHL officials have maintained that they will resolve all environmental concerns that the study reveals, and it’s not certain that the review could derail the project.
CB7 chair Mark Diller said that despite an “initial bit of community restiveness,” he was proud that both sides listened to one another and hopes for a complete Environmental Impact Statement.
“I think it was a good turnout,” Brandon said. “I just hope they listen.”
The public will have until Oct. 4 to submit testimony, which the DOH will take into account when determining the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement.