Fight continues over JHL Project News

| 07 Dec 2015 | 04:41

Upper West Side residents who have long been opposed to a 20-story nursing home development on West 97th Street say they’re optimistic the deal will fall through, but the company behind the proposal claims they’re now on schedule and will begin construction next summer.

The job site is located on a parking lot adjacent to P.S. 163, an elementary school, and surrounded by three housing complexes on West 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues. The home will serve approximately 400 full-time residents with an additional 150 beds for seniors receiving temporary, post-surgery care.

Construction is estimated to last nearly three years, and JHL has obtained all necessary city and state approvals, despite strenuous objections from elected officials, local residents and the P.S. 163 community.

“We’ve got every single approval, we don’t need any more approvals for shovels to hit dirt,” said Ethan Geto, a principal at the lobbying and public relations firm Geto de Milly, which represents JHL. “The thing that’s holding it up is the litigation.”

That litigation includes a lawsuit from the parents of P.S. 163 against JHL that claims the company’s mitigation plan fails to take into account concerns over the impact that the construction, which will take place 30 feet from the school, will have on students. Parents are concerned about noise and the presence of a crane looming over the school, as well as lead and other toxins that have been found in the parking lot being kicked up into the air due to construction activity.

The other lawsuit is coming from the tenants association at Park West Village, a housing complex made up of three buildings surrounding the lot that JHL wants to build on. Their suit, filed in NY Supreme Court, challenges the state Dept. of Health’s approval of JHL’s Environmental Impact Statement, which includes details on the impact that construction would have and the efforts undertaken by JHL to minimize those impacts. For instance, JHL’s EIS includes a provision that the company wet down the parking lot during construction to prevent contaminated soil from being dispersed into the air.

Park West Village tenants, as well as P.S. 163 parents, believe the EIS is inadequate. Both suits are awaiting a judge’s decision. Tenants have also challenged the Board of Standards and Appeals’ approval of the zoning plan for JHL’s project, which they contend violates open space requirements in the city’s zoning resolution.

“They will not build on 97th Street, they don’t have a prayer,” said Catherine Unsino, a local resident opposed to the plan. “Any time a city or state agency does the wrong thing we will hold them responsible in court, and we will do that interminably to protect our health and safety.”

The financing for JHL’s project also adds another dimension of hope to opponents of the plan.

Mega-developer Joseph Chetrit, who owns Park West Village, is providing $35 million in financing for the nursing home project and transferring ownership of the lot to JHL in exchange for a JHL property at 120 West 106th Street, at which the developer plans to build luxury housing.

But Chetrit was recently named in a lawsuit brought by the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan and BTA Bank, the third largest bank in that country. The suit alleges Chetrit helped two foreign businessmen hide $40 million in stolen assets belonging to Almaty and the bank through real estate deals in New York. Although the case was settled out of court, Chetrit is accused in the lawsuit of having of violated various U.S. laws. Martin Rosenblatt, a researcher and local resident who has been fighting the nursing home proposal, says it’s possible that authorities could open an investigation into certain of the allegations contained in the lawsuit concerning the way those funds entered the U.S.

Rosenblatt also said $32 million of the $35 million in financing provided by Chetrit to JHL has yet to change hands. Opponents of the nursing home are hopeful that any investigation by federal authorities would result in a seizure of Chetrit’s assets, therefore preventing the financing and property transfer from coming through to JHL.

“I think that there’s a high likelihood that this will never happen because of what’s already in place and what may unfold in the future,” said Rosenblatt.

Geto, however, said JHL is unconcerned with their partner’s recent legal trouble. “It’s completely unrelated and has no impact whatsoever,” said Geto.

Geto said JHL is also confident that they’ll prevail against the two suits brought against them in court.

“The state has reviewed JHL’s plan and has given the company very strict protocols,” said Geto. “Not only will they follow them to the T but they’ll be closely monitored by city [Dept. of Environmental Conservation] and state [Dept. of Environmental Protection].”

And while the suits have to be resolved in order for construction to move forward, Geto said they have no effect on the planning and preparation leading up to construction, which is currently going ahead as scheduled.

“That’s all moving forward apace,” he said. “And our attorneys say they’re confident that the courts will rule on this stuff well before the commencement of construction.”