Jewish Home and Fracking in Hot Seat at UWS Town Hall

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More than 100 residents turned out for an Upper West Side town hall meeting July 19, where Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer fielded questions from concerned residents of the West 90s and 100s. The community pressed Stringer, City Council Member Gale Brewer and a panel of officials representing city agencies on such issues as the controversial Jewish Home Lifecare center, hydrofracking and an explosion of rats in the neighborhood. The line of people waiting to step up to the microphone to say their piece stretched to the back of the room for the entire two-hour meeting. Armed with literature and, sometimes, unconcealed anger, community members and local activists pressed their elected officials for answers and action. The most discussed issue of the night was the proposed construction of the Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) center on West 97th Street. JHL, an organization that provides health care and support services for the elderly, seeks to build a new 20-story high-rise nursing home next to P.S. 163, an elementary school. Although the New York City Planning Commission has approved the application, Community Board 7 and local activists have continued to fight against the project. Avery Brandon, who lives near 97th Street and whose kindergarten-aged daughter will attend P.S. 163 for the next several years, spoke out vehemently against the new building. "A huge construction project like this can have untold effects on the health of our children," Brandon said. "With the noise levels and the mental stress that this construction will cause, how will our children be able to learn?" Brandon and other residents also cited increased congestion, dust and debris and decreased access to the block for emergency responders as potential negative consequences of the project. On the issue of fracking, the focus of the conversation centered around the contentious Spectra pipeline, a proposed gas line intended to expand the delivery of natural gas to areas in New York and New Jersey. The project, which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May, is slated to run along the coast of New Jersey and cross the Hudson River into Manhattan, bringing gas from the Marcellus Shale acquired through the process of hydraulic fracturing to New York City homes on the Upper West Side. Residents at the meeting voiced the concerns of many critics of the controversial method, citing in particular what they said are particularly high levels of radon and other radioactive material in Marcellus gas. They emphasized the dangers of using radon-infused gas in New York City kitchens, which tend to be small and often poorly ventilated, as well as the potential effects exposure could have on children in the neighborhood. Attendees also complained of a growing rat infestation on Upper West Side streets, a problem Brewer assured would be tackled next month in a block-by-block effort conducted by the Department of Health, and the New York Police Department's ever-contentious stop-and-frisk policy, which NYPD representatives declined to discuss in detail last night.

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