After two nights of impassioned and well-attended public hearings last week, locals against the proposed Jewish Home Lifecare building on West 97th Street are counting the weeks until a final environmental impact statement is released later this summer.
The May 7 and May 8 hearings—which were announced in March with the release of the draft environmental impact statement—gave politicians, heads of agencies and associated groups, and local residents the chance to voice concerns, ideas, and opinions about the proposed building.
Members of the public may send comments to the New York State Department of Health until May 19, after which community members will have to wait for the final environmental impact statement and a decision on whether or not the project will move forward.
Jewish Home Lifecare, a nursing home currently located on 106th Street, proposed building a 20-story replacement building on a parking lot on 97th Street in 2012 after an earlier plan to relocate to 100th Street fell through. Locals have vehemently opposed both plans—range from lead found in the parking lot to evacuation procedures in the building.
A variety of community members, ranging from kindergarteners at P.S. 163 to a 99-year-old resident, voiced their concerns about the impact of construction during the two nights of hearings. An overwhelming number of attendees called for the project to be canceled.
Athena Shapiro, a teacher at P.S. 163, brought a boombox onstage to simulate construction noise as she pretended to try to teach a class.
Gisele Sanchez brought her son, a pre-K student at P.S. 163, up to the microphone with her at the May 8 hearing.
“In September he will be learning to read and write and just starting to learn what education is,” she said. With the construction noise, “you couldn't concentrate.”
Winifred Armstrong, a longtime resident of Park West Village, an apartment complex on 97th Street, was part of a group of Park West residents who organized a response opposing the project.
“The lot is the only open space on 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues,” Armstrong wrote in part of the group's response. “Adding a nursing home, a 24 hour a day business, with its attendant constant medical, delivery, employee and residential entries/exits, portends serious change in the character of this vibrant, residential neighborhood.”
Local residents were also joined by elected city officials, many of whom have also been against the project.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, GS '97, said that the draft environmental impact statement did not adequately address concerns about zoning compliance and construction pollution.
“If JHL had chosen to remain at its current location, we wouldn't be having this discussion today,” Brewer said during the May 7 meeting. “However, since the institution wants to move, we must ensure that this is done in a responsible manner that fully analyzes the impact of such a facility, the needs of its target population, and the needs of the community in which it will be sited.”
State Assembly member Daniel O'Donnell, who attended the May 8 meeting, also sent a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens on May 1 outlining his concerns about the project.
“The construction is planned in a lot that is known to contain lead and other toxic materials, many of which would inevitably become airborne and potentially damaging to my constituents' health during construction,” part of the letter said.
Still, JHL developers said that the benefits of the new building ultimately merit construction moving forward.
Scott Brown, director of marketing and business development at the Green House Project, an alternative nursing home organization on which the new JHL building is based, said that the new building is consistent with a sustainable model of nursing care.
“What we're talking about here is not just a new building—Jewish Home is fundamentally changing what nursing care will be looking like in an urban setting,” Brown said. “I have no doubt this project will be completed in the safest, most responsible manner.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that toxins were found in the parking lot's asphalt. Lead was actually found in the parking lot. Spectator regrets the error.