As the sun rises brightly and the school day begins, hundreds of students enter Public School 163. Some of them have spent the night before studying for the very important Common Core exam, reviewing strategies and taking practice tests. Nervous, they enter their classrooms and reassure themselves that everything is going to be fine. They are about to start the exam, when suddenly, they hear an ear-splitting, deafening noise. It is the sound of construction right next door.
This is what many in the neighborhood fear would occur if a planned construction project goes forward on West 97th Street. So far, no construction has been done, because a protracted court battle has brought the project to a complete halt.
The New Jewish Home, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing healthcare to the elderly throughout New York City, is planning to build a 20-story nursing home on 97th street between Columbus and Amsterdam, adjacent to P.S. 163. The home would contain 414 beds, including 264 long-term care beds and 150 short-term rehabilitation beds. It would be built on a parking lot that the developers bought from the owners of Park West Village, a residential complex consisting of four apartment buildings on Columbus Avenue between 97th and 100th Street.
The proposed nursing home has ignited a frenzy of controversy among people, both for and against its construction. While some people argue that the New Jewish Home wants to construct this home for the safety and well-being of the elderly, others argue against its development.
An organization called No Jewish Home Lifecare at Park West Village, parents of students who attend P.S. 163, community board members, local politicians, and residents who live near the planned construction site have all criticized the nursing home’s construction.
According to Straus News, Avery Brandon, who lives close to the site and whose daughter is currently in kindergarten attending P.S. 163, strongly criticized establishment of the nursing home. “A huge construction project like this can have untold effects on the health of our children,” she stated. “With the noise levels, and the mental stress that this construction will cause, how will our children be able to learn?” She also pointed out increased congestion, dust and debris, and restricted space for emergency vehicles in case of an accident that could emerge as a result of the construction.
Residents like Avery are not the only ones who have vehemently opposed the nursing home’s construction. According to DNAinfo, City Comptroller Scott Stringer has pledged to halt the New Jewish Home’s proposal. “I’m not going to let them do anything to harm our children or residents,” he said. “In the current proposal, we’ve already calculated that there isn’t enough public space.” He emphasized that the construction would put schoolchildren at risk.
The No JHL at PWV coalition has also harshly condemned the proposed development of the nursing home. In a 2015 interview, the coalition’s leader, Martin Rosenblatt, said that emergency response vehicle access would be impeded, long-term construction noise, dust and debris would put schoolchildren in jeopardy, and increased traffic would exacerbate congestion.
When contacted to be interviewed again, members of No JHL at PWV did not respond.
Leading figures in New Jewish Home are aware of the criticism and have responded to it. According to DNAinfo, New Jewish Home spokesman Ethan Geto said the company’s attorneys and consultants went over the proposal in extreme detail to make sure it conformed to zoning regulations regarding open space. Geto added that the project is designed to create “the leading, state-of-the-art nursing home in the U.S., that is both environmentally-friendly and maximizes the dignity and independence of residents.”
In a statement made in 2014, New Jewish Home Senior Vice President Bruce Nathanson said, “As a mission-driven nonprofit healthcare organization, Jewish Home is committed to building in the safest and most responsible manner.”
The New Jewish Home was also contacted recently, but they declined to comment.
After five years of complex litigation, no construction has been done on the planned development site, ground has not yet been broken, and the parking lot still remains vacant. In December 2017, the New Jewish Home won a lawsuit filed against them by parents and residents of the community, with the Court of Appeals ruling that the environmental impact studies conducted by the New Jewish Home to ensure safety of schoolchildren were adequate. However, the court battle still isn’t over. Litigants have also filed suit against the proposed nursing home’s zoning, which is currently being reviewed at the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division.
The controversy over the construction of this nursing home is more heated than ever, and the New Jewish Home is still facing a great deal of criticism. Residents and parents who live close to the site are very angry, and do not want to witness schoolchildren’s lives being endangered. Because of the bitter opposition to the nursing home’s development, whether a compromise can ever be reached remains to be seen.