Opinion: Stop the Chetrit Land-Swap!
by Avi - December 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm -
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.
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.