Opinion: Stop the Chetrit Land-Swap!

by - December 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm -

Jewish Home and Hospital

Jewish Home and Hospital

By Hillel Hoffman
Once again, there is a real estate scheme afoot that should set off community alarm. The players are Jewish Home Lifecare, a non-profit nursing home, and the Chetrit Group, one of the developers responsible for Columbus Village – five residential towers and a big-box commercial mega-development, spanning three uninterrupted blocks on Columbus Avenue between 97th and 100th Streets.

The victims are Upper West Siders in the increasingly overburdened Park West Village neighborhood, who are at risk of losing one of their last remaining open spaces and being constructively blockaded within 788 and 792 Columbus Avenue – two high-rise residential buildings of approximately 600 residents.

Let’s examine the scheme.

Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) runs a nursing home on West 106th Street, where it claims to have outgrown its facility. Arguing that its expansion is necessary to continue its mission, JHL asked for and received an exemption, or “carve out,” from a comprehensive rezoning in 2006 that, Upper West Siders will recall, was meant to protect historic neighborhoods from destructive overdevelopment.

The carve out was granted as a community benefit to promote the public good, providing the nonprofit owner of the 106th Street plot the option of building larger than the 2006 rezoning would otherwise allow. Enter the Chetrit Group, eager to purchase the option.

Hillel Hoffman

Hillel Hoffman

And instead of expanding at its current site as it represented it would, JHL is now offering to sell its zoning exemption to Chetrit, which could then build a high-rise luxury development at the 106th Street location “as of right” and without restriction.

In return, Chetrit would give JHL some of the last remaining open space in Park West Village plus – presumably – a windfall of cash. While most development is prohibited in this open space, a loophole allows for “community facilities.” JHL would take advantage of the loophole to build a behemoth, 22-story nursing home.

Behold a monumental, latter day bait and switch; what was initially a public grant is transformed into a lucrative real estate swap.

To her credit, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito has moved to restore the rightful contextual zoning of the Jewish Home’s current campus to prevent a developer from monetizing a charitable benefit intended solely for a non-profit. But markings have been made at Park West Village in order to specify drilling locations for core samples, strongly indicating that the untoward land deal is moving forward.

For residents of Park West Village, this has a dangerous side. Not only would a new nursing home eliminate one of their last remaining open parcels, it also would endanger residents of 788 and 792 Columbus Avenue.

These high-rises are surrounded by a cluster of congestion-causing facilities, including a fire house, the 24th Police Precinct, the Bloomingdale Public Library, the Ryan Public Health Center, Trinity Lutheran Church and the Frederick Douglass Houses. On any given day, West 100th Street resembles a parking lot with double parking on both sides and motorists driving on the sidewalk to free vehicles. When the rest of the Columbus Village big-box outlets open, the area could grind to a halt.

Already a new Chetrit building on Columbus Avenue has blocked vehicular access to 788 and 792; to these high-rises, there is only one driveway for fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, delivery and garbage trucks, car services and taxis, which are critical for the many seniors who live there. A 22-story nursing home would bring an un-absorbable amount of new emergency vehicles, access-a-ride vans, patient visitors and employees who must staff the nursing home in three shifts 24×7. (On one occasion, this resident observed eight access-a-ride vans parked outside JHL at its 106th Street campus, four were double parked).

In 2005, an apartment fire at 788 Columbus Avenue was contained thanks to ingress from 100th Street. But a new nursing home adjacent to 792 and 788 would render that last ingress almost impenetrable.

The bait and switch component of this land swap and the scant attention it has received is a classic example of what happens absent a more public process for community planning. And the potential for putting a huge nursing home in one of the last remaining open spaces of an overcrowded neighborhood is an example of how real estate greed and easy deception can place a community in peril.

The writer is a thirty-three year resident of Park West Village. For more on the land swap, see our previous coverage, as well as coverage by Westsiders for Public Particpation, and statements by Jewish Home and Lifecare and Community Board 7.

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  1. Audrey Weiner says...

    Upon reading Hillel Hoffman’s recent opinion piece regarding the Jewish Home and Hospital’s plans to rebuild its Manhattan skilled nursing facility (“Stop the Chetrit Land-Swap!”, December 21st, 2009), I felt compelled to respond to provide the Jewish Home’s perspective on the potential sale of its property at West 106th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

    The Jewish Home has served Upper West Side elders from its current location on West 106th Street for the past 125 years. Its physical plant is now obsolete, with areas of the campus dating back to 1883. In light of the constraints imposed by the outdated nature of the physical plant, it can no longer deliver the state-of-the-art care that it otherwise is well-suited to provide. As Jewish Home plans for the future of older adults in New York City in the century ahead, the Manhattan nursing home must be rebuilt in order to sustain its crucial geriatric services.

    Over the past several years, the Jewish Home has developed a master plan to rebuild its outmoded and inefficient nursing home—not with the goal of expansion, as characterized by Mr. Hoffman, but to continue caring for the elders of our community. Rather than having “outgrown its facility,” the Jewish Home is actually rightsizing its facility and has obtained approval from the New York State Department of Health for a 408-bed facility, down from the current 514 beds. The new, modern skilled nursing facility will allow long-term care residents to live in a home with dignity, privacy and amenities.

    The only way that Jewish Home—a not-for-profit institution—could finance the reconstruction of its facility would be through the sale of a portion of its West 106th Street campus to a developer. In August 2009, the Jewish Home concluded months of negotiations with potential developers, and announced to the community that there was only one viable offer that would allow the Jewish Home to finance its rebuilding and keep it on the Upper West Side. Under the terms of this offer, the Jewish Home would sell its entire campus on West 106th Street as well as its parking garage on West 107th Street to The Chetrit Group, owners of Park West Village. Jewish Home would construct a new state-of-the-art skilled nursing facility on a parking lot on West 100th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, and the owners of Park West Village would develop new residential housing on the site of Jewish Home’s 106th Street campus.

    At no time did Jewish Home ever “offer to sell its zoning exemption” to any developer. To the contrary, the Jewish Home has worked closely with local elected officials, Community Board 7 and other neighborhood groups to memorialize legally-binding zoning restrictions on the West 106th Street property in conformance with the height limits of the Upper West Side rezoning of 2007. The zoning exemption that was granted to the Jewish Home as a healthcare facility would not apply to The Chetrit Group, or for that matter to any private developer who may purchase the current site of the nursing home. Instead, the Jewish Home has made a commitment to the community that the restrictions on the property will run in perpetuity with the land. With these legally-binding restrictions in place, no developer would ever be able to “build a high-rise luxury development at the 106th Street location” that is out of context with the zoning of the surrounding community without first receiving approval from the community and local elected officials for a zoning change.

    One final point: the Jewish Home is well-aware of the concerns of Park West Village residents regarding existing traffic congestion in the area. In designing its new facility at 100th Street, we have made every effort to minimize the impact on traffic in the area. The grounds of the new skilled nursing facility at 100th Street would incorporate an off-street driveway and turnaround for nursing home- related vehicles, including ambulettes, vans, and delivery trucks—thereby minimizing any additional traffic on 100th Street. Jewish Home Lifecare pledges to work closely with the community, in consultation with traffic management experts, to mitigate congestion issues.

    The Jewish Home’s Manhattan campus—which served over 3,000 individuals in 2008, mostly impoverished, frail elders—has a long and enduring history on the Upper West Side. It is our hope that we can rebuild our facility in this community and serve many generations of Upper West Siders to come.

    Audrey Weiner
    President & CEO
    Jewish Home Lifecare

  2. D. Watkins says...

    Having lived in Park West Village for over 30 years and also having spent 5 years as a neighbor to Jewish Home on 106th street, I can say without hesitation that this land-swap is a greed-motivated swindle. Audrey Weiner’s propaganda is absurd and cramming a 22 story building into a parking lot is the height of idiocy. The traffic has always been a nightmare and will only get worse once the Columbus buildings are finished, so any talk of JHL factoring in anyone’s concerns but their own is completely false. The sad thing is how easily JHL uses the elderly as pawns to mask their greedy ways. As for Chetrit and the owners of Park West Village, this is how they’ve always done business.