Politicians Want to Rezone Jewish Home and Hospital

by - October 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm -

Two months ago, Jewish Home and Hospital announced that it had agreed to swap the site of its nursing home on 106th Street with a developer, potentially allowing a mega-high rise to be built in a neighborhood of midsize apartment buildings and brownstones. Now, local politicians are getting involved, filing a rezoning request to keep the building 15 stories or less.

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, with the support of Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Bill Perkins, and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, says she is filing an application to rezone the site of Jewish Home and Hospital so that it can’t be turned into a luxury high-rise.

Jewish Home and Hospital

Jewish Home and Hospital

Jewish Home and Hospital, a nursing and elder care facility on 106th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, agreed in August to swap land with the Chetrit Group, a developer that owns land on 100th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. Because of a special zoning exception, Chetrit could develop the site of the nursing home into a building as tall as 27 stories, out of scale with the surrounding area at 106th street.

Between 2005 and 2007, residents in the neighborhood had successfully pushed to rezone the area between 97th and 110th Streets so that it would retain its character —  midsize apartment buildings and brownstones instead of the glassy mega-developments that are taking over other parts of the neighborhood. (The name of that zoning designation is R8A/R8B.)

Towards the end of that process, Jewish Home approached the City Council to ask for an exception so that the organization would not be restricted by the new zoning when it attempted to build a new elder care center. Although some community members expressed concern, the council allowed for the exception.

Now residents say they feel betrayed by Jewish Home and Hospital’s land-swap, because they had negotiated the change to the nursing home’s zoning two years ago in good faith, with the understanding that the nursing home planned to redevelop a more modern facility on the site. The land swap puts the site in the hands of  a developer who could potentially exploit the zoning change to build a much larger building.

“You just don’t have the right to thwart the Democratic process,” said Blanca Vazquez, one community member who spoke out against the land-swap at a meeting last month.

But Ethan Geto, a  consultant for Jewish Home and Hospital, calls the idea that the facility betrayed the neighborhood “nonsense.” Jewish Home attempted to stay in the 106th Street spot, sending out requests for proposals to thousands of developers, but the credit crisis and housing downturn made it impossible to stay on 106th. The Chetrit land swap was the only way that Jewish Home could effectively serve its clients, he said.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Mark-Viverito’s decision to file for a rezoning while Jewish Home is still negotiating with the Chetrit Group puts the facility in a bad situation. If they don’t close the deal with Chetrit, Jewish Home won’t be able to build a modern facility on 100th or 106th, Geto said.

“The problem now is that if the council member’s rezoning goes through and our deal with Chetrit unravels, we have to remain on 106th street with no ability to rebuild the nursing home” Geto said in an interview, adding that some of the facility’s current buildings were constructed in 1880.

Instead, Jewish Home says it is in the process of negotiating a restrictive covenant with the community board to make sure that Jewish Home applies to change the zoning on the property after closing the deal with Chetrit. Jewish Home is paying for the community board’s lawyer in that process, Geto said. The land is worth more at the R8A/R8B zoning designation anyhow, because it allows Chetrit to build more square footage (if not more height), so the nursing home wouldn’t even have an incentive to double-cross the community, Geto added.

Jewish Home also faces opposition from Park West Village, the residential neighborhood around 100th Street where the new facility would be located. One Park West Village resident said at a community board meeting this month that “we do not see this as an unqualified victory,” noting that a rezoning doesn’t address the disruption that Park West Village residents will be caused if a 22-story medical facility is built in their backyard. (top photo by Avi. Photo of council member Mark-Viverito from her office)

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