Planning Commission signs off on new nursing home in the Upper West Side

Jewish Home Lifecare project site.

Community board argued that Commission should require Jewish Home Lifecare’s to seek special permit for new facility on West 97th Street. Jewish Home Lifecare, a health care provider for the elderly, planned to build a new 414-bed nursing home on West 97th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Jewish Home Lifecare operates a 514-bed facility at 120 West 106th Street. However, the building’s physical plant is outdated and inefficient, and Jewish Home Lifecare planned to relocate to a new 24-story facility on West 97th Street. The building would be located on a parking lot surrounded by the Park West Village Apartments. The proposed building would comply with the zoning requirements of the area’s underlying R7-2 district. However, Jewish Home Lifecare needed the City Planning Commission to issue a certification to the Department of Buildings in order to avoid seeking a special permit to build the facility, which, if required, would trigger public review pursuant to the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

The Department of City Planning in 1973 established a certification process for new nursing homes, and other residential health care facilities, in response to a dramatic increase in these facilities in residential neighborhoods across Queens. The concentration of the facilities created a burden on local hospitals and public services, and led to parking and traffic congestion.

In order for a developer to enlarge or build a nursing home in a residentially zoned district on an as-of-right basis, the Commission must first certify that none of three conditions exists: that there would be an undue concentration of residential health care facilities in the local community district; that there is a scarcity of land for general community purposes within the community district; and that the proposal warrants review because construction of these facilities within the community over the last three years threaten to disrupt the balance in the community.

Manhattan Community Board 7 opposed the application, claiming that a scarcity of land existed within the community district for community purposes. Jewish Home Lifecare determined that there was 1.5 million sq.ft. of vacant land in the CD 7, which included 1.25 million sq.ft. attributable to the Riverside South project. The community board argued that it was inappropriate to include underdeveloped sites and land dedicated for open space and streets when calculating whether there was a scarcity of land for community purposes.

At the Commission’s well-attended review session in March 2012, City Planning’s General Counsel David Karnovsky explained the agency’s position on how to analyze whether there is a scarcity of land for community purposes. Karnovsky said that the zoning resolution did not define what constituted a scarcity or how it should be measured. According to Karnovsky, in predominately built-up areas such as Community District 7, it was acceptable to consider vacant parcels and underdeveloped parcels, as well as the number and size of existing building that could house community uses. Using these sites in its analysis, but excluding City-owned sites and the unbuilt portions of Riverside Center and Riverside South, City Planning found that there was not a scarcity of land for general community purposes in the community district.

Commissioner Anna Levin questioned Karnovsky about the short review period afforded to the Commission, and described the zoning resolution’s certification provision as a “model of bad drafting and imprecise use of terms.”

The Commission voted 9-0-1 to certify that the three conditions did not exist. Commissioner Levin abstained. Opponents of the project, which included tenants of Park West Village, voiced their displeasure during and after the vote.

CPC: Jewish Home Lifecare (N 120043 ZCM – certification) (March 26, 2012).

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