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Opponents, supporters of project testify as developers seeks upzoning previously reserved for hospital

By Alan Krawitz

Several hundred residents and community activists packed a City Council subcommittee hearing last Tuesday, March 6 in a final attempt to make their feelings known about Rudin Management Company's plan to redevelop the former St. Vincent's Hospital site in Greenwich Village into a residential complex and park that will also include a new health center and an elementary school.

Though nearly 100 people waited several hours in the cold outside 250 Broadway, 75 ultimately managed to testify before the City Council's Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, chaired by Council Member Mark Weprin.

With 200 public meetings, including 70 public hearings, behind it, one of the key issues surrounding the redevelopment of the now-abandoned St. Vincent's Hospital, which closed in 2010 in an avalanche of nearly $1 billion in debt, is the granting of special zoning rights to a private, for-profit developer that were formerly made available to the hospital in light of its overarching public benefit.

"Special zoning considerations granted for a facility that served such a necessary public service as a hospital should never be passed along for a development that provides no such similar public service, as would essentially be done in this case," Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, told the subcommittee.

Berman urged the Council to vote no on the proposed rezoning application, saying it could have dire consequences for future development in Greenwich Village and the city.

Speaking on the development's benefits, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management, said that more than 1,200 new construction jobs and 400 other permanent jobs would be created.

In addition, he said, millions of dollars in new tax revenue would be generated for the city and state as a result of the project's 450-unit condo complex, 16,500-square-foot public park, 563-seat elementary school and North Shore-LIJ-operated health center with an emergency department.

When asked by Weprin why a full-service hospital was not included in the project, Rudin responded that a full-service hospital would have been too complicated to build and gain all the necessary Department of Health (DOH) approvals.

"What we're trying to create is a new hybrid medical facility," said Jeff Kraut, a representative of North Shore-LIJ. Kraut maintained that the care center with emergency department would be able to provide the "same services as most community hospitals."

Kraut added that 90 percent of all emergency room patients are treated and immediately released.

But former St. Vincent's doctor David Kaufman was skeptical of the proposed emergency care center. He doubted the new facility would be able to treat the more than 61,000 patients that St. Vincent's ER treated only a year before its close.

"It's an emergency care center on steroids. That's what Rudin is offering," he said during his testimony. Kaufman asked the Council to reject the proposal until a new hospital is built.

Yetta Kurland, a member of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, said, "Public health laws should have stopped this tragedy." She said she was not condemning the developer, but did ask for additional floors to be built onto the care center.

The project also has its share of supporters, who were equally vocal. Among them were scores of union construction and other trades workers who attended the hearing to show their support for the project.

"St. Vincent's served the city valiantly for years," said Cora Kahn, a longtime resident of Greenwich Village, who referred to the hospital's service going back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and, most recently, treating the victims of 9/11.

"The Rudin plan will bring the area some much-needed jobs?the company has a long history of public concern," she said to some boos from the audience.

Local resident Mary Margaret Amato was also in favor, saying that the area surrounding the hospital has become derelict. "We will once again have access to a 24/7 emergency care center. I urge the Council to approve this plan."

Another issue of concern for residents and politicians alike is the lack of an affordable housing component to the project. Rudin explained to Council Member Diana Reyna that as a result of downsizing the project from its original plan, mainly due to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, "an affordable component to the project wasn't feasible."

As part of their joint testimony, aides to Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Sen. Tom Duane urged that the project include affordable housing. They stated that Rudin condos' sale prices range from $1.4 million to $12.9 million, "out of reach, economically, for all but very high net worth individuals who far exceed the area's median income," said one aide.

Both representatives called it "unacceptable for the applicant to avoid these essential components of affordable housing, especially in such a lucrative market."

The subcommittee did not vote following the meeting, although they are expected to vote shortly, followed by the Land Use Committee and then the full City Council.

A spokesperson for the Council said that the city's ULURP review process mandates that all voting on the project be completed by March 28.

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