Few local development projects in our area have generated as much debate and discussion as Jewish Home Lifecare’s proposed move to Park West Village, and for good reason.
In 2009, JHL announced its intention to vacate its property at West 106th Street and construct a new nursing facility within the Park West Village footprint. In turn, JHL would sell its current property to the Chetrit Group, which had already built several new residential buildings and a commercial strip within Park West Village.
The proposed development site on West 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues is more than just a parking lot. It’s one of the last vestiges of open space within Park West Village, which has already been developed beyond recognition over the last decade.
This parcel is also located directly adjacent to a public school, P.S. 163, which only raises the alarm about the potential health and safety impacts associated with this project, because it will be taking place near hundreds of students.
For years, Park West Village residents, the surrounding community, the parents of P.S. 163, and elected officials have protested this project, citing concerns about traffic, construction safety, noise, and the scale of the proposed building.
These concerns are real ones: West 97th Street is already a busy corridor with heavy westbound traffic and a high concentration of delivery trucks arriving at local supermarkets. The traffic situation can only get worse with the construction of the new 20-story, 414-bed nursing facility.
Park West Village and P.S. 163 know very well the impacts of infill construction on their neighborhood. The residential and school community already had a grueling experience with construction several years ago during the development of the Columbus Square complex, which included loud drilling, excessive dust, and even a crane accident.
Most alarmingly, the community gathered at a meeting organized by the residents of Park West Village, where we heard the results of a study finding exceedingly high levels of lead at the proposed site for the nursing facility. Samples taken from the West 97th Street parking lot contained the highest lead levels of 12 parking lots studied throughout New York City.
Surrounding residents—not to mention the parents at P.S. 163—are right to be concerned about the potential impacts on air quality if construction were to begin on this parcel.
After extensive written communications to the New York State Department of Health requesting an opportunity to provide feedback on this project, the community won a significant victory when the department announced that it would in fact prepare an environmental impact statement for this site. DOH had previously granted approval to JHL for the construction of a nursing facility on West 97th Street.
The environmental impact statement presents an enormous opportunity not only for the community to be heard, but also for a robust study of the potential repercussions of this project on Upper West Side and Manhattan Valley residents’ quality of life.
As the current City Council member and the Democratic nominee for this district, we joined with our constituents at last month’s scoping meeting, which will help inform the range of issues covered by the environmental impact statement, in calling for a wide-ranging environmental review that would take into account the many concerns expressed by the community.
Now, as DOH moves through the process of preparing the statement, we need to remain vigilant as a community to ensure that the department is evaluating this project in a manner that truly considers the needs of the surrounding community first.
As we stated unequivocally at last month’s scoping meeting, we simply cannot even entertain the idea of this project moving forward until we are completely certain that there will be no adverse impacts on the health of the children of P.S. 163 or the residents of Park West Village.
While we do not dispute that the older adults residing at JHL would be better served by a new, upgraded facility, the community is expressing valid concerns that require serious consideration.
Melissa Mark-Viverito is the City Council member for the district that includes the proposed location of the Jewish Home Lifecare nursing facility. Mark Levine is the Democratic nominee for the redrawn council district that will now include the proposed development site.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.