Residents of the Upper West Side who hope to prevent the construction of a 20-story Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) nursing home on West 97th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus, were disappointed last week when Mayor Bill de Blasio threw his support behind the project. For several years, locals and administrators at the adjacent P.S. 163 have been fighting the development, arguing that the construction will create hazardous and disruptive conditions.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the developers, one by the parents of P.S. 163 students and one by residents of the Park West Village complex that surrounds the lot JHL wants to build on, claiming that the environmental review conducted by JHL was not accurate.
After the city’s amicus brief in support of JHL was filed to the New York State appellate court, elected officials said they were disappointed that the project now seems to be moving ahead. “I had hoped the mayor would at least agree with me that if this project went ahead at all, it needed to do so with full consideration for these problems and whatever mitigation measures are needed to ensure P.S. 163’s students have a safe and productive learning environment,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in a statement. “The mayor’s intentions here may be good, but his conclusion is wrong.”
Marty Rosenblatt, a researcher and resident who has long been fighting the project, said he remains confident that JHL’s long-term plan to build next to P.S. 163 will not move forward. “De Blasio is doing what his political supporters want him to do, and it’s being done at the cost of the community,” Rosenblatt said.
Ethan Geto, a spokesman for JHL, played down the significance of the city’s amicus brief, describing it as more broadly defending the integrity of the environmental review process, though he admitted that it does help JHL’s case. “We feel optimistic that the appellate division is going to look at these issues in a more objective way than the lower court did, and find that the state and city indeed conducted the environmental review appropriately,” he said.
Construction on the lot where JHL is supposed to go has been postponed by litigation several times since 2014, and according to Geto it is unlikely to start until 2017, pending the outcome of the lawsuits. Rene Kathawala, a P.S. 163 parent and lawyer representing his fellow parents in their lawsuit, was reluctant to predict an outcome, but remains hopeful. “We know that we have developed a record that shows that the Department of Health failed to discharge its legal obligation,” Kathawala said. “The facts are undisputed.”