Decision delayed

Board hopes compromise can be reached

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After hours upon hours of questions and testimony, numerous bouts of applause and boos, and even thousands of words published in these very pages, one might think there was nothing left that could be said or heard about the Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s plans to expand.

Wrong.

Community Board 8’s land use committee punted its decision over the Palisade Avenue assisted living facility’s proposed 388-unit continuing care retirement community to next week after Councilman Andrew Cohen suggested the board needed time to peruse a compromise deal he himself reportedly helped broker.

“I finally feel in the last several days there has been productive dialogue, that the parties are at least speaking the same language,” Cohen said.

The councilman said he’s met with representatives from both Skyview-on-the-Hudson and the advocacy group Riverdale Nature Preservancy, and believes there is a deal on the table that would reduce two buildings proposed for Hebrew Home’s south campus from six and four stories to five and three, and reduce a taller building on its northern parcel from 12 stories to 10.

The buildings were part of what would become the city’s first continuing care retirement community, providing senior citizens a chance to lock up medical care for the rest of their lives while still maintaining independence. RiverSpring Health, the parent non-profit of the Hebrew Home, says creating a CCRC is essential to prevent the 100-year-old organization from being taken over by a for-profit company. 

Neighbors, however, haven’t been so keen on the plans, especially since it takes place in the Special Natural Area District, where specific natural features are intended to be preserved.

Monday’s land use committee meeting was supposed to finally give the community insight on where the board might go in a decision, but former CB8 chair Dan Padernacht was quick to make a motion following Cohen’s suggestion to postpone the vote until next Monday — a motion that passed the board swiftly.

Before that, Hebrew Home representatives — including chief executive Daniel Reingold — fielded questions from the committee, questioning not just the environmental impacts of construction, but how affordable a CCRC actually is, especially with buy-ins ranging from $400,000 to $1.2 million.

They were surrounded in the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel auditorium by nearly 200 supporters and opponents to the expansion plan, who relied on a number of placards to speak for them, like “Community united against overdevelopment,” and “Just say no to NIMBY.”

It was an extension of their actual words spoken the Thursday before during a public comment session at Riverdale Temple on Independence Avenue. 

“I’m not a public speaker, but I’m 84 years old, and I’m up here to speak for all the people that get to 84,” said John Spinelli, who’s called Skyview-on-the-Hudson home for more than half a century. “I could not afford River’s Edge,” the Hebrew Home’s CCRC. “I’m completely confused how people refer to River’s Edge as home for the aged. It’s not. They’re two different things. One is for millionaires.” 

But on Monday, Reingold said the primary way people pay for late-life care is by impoverishing themselves and dipping into Medicaid. Otherwise, private nursing homes can cost as much as $20,000 a month.

“What’s not being mentioned is that this is a life care community,” he said, “that when somebody pays an entrance fee to come into the community, we are obligated to provide long-term care to them for the rest of their lives.”

And some 80 percent of the initial buy-in is refunded, either to the resident when they move out, or to their estate when they pass on. 

If Hebrew Home does get the necessary approvals — primarily at the city council level, where Cohen will be expected to cast a vote — construction could take as long as four years. The current plan is to have workers park outside the community and be bussed in. Yet, there was some concern that workers might park their cars in spaces already a rarity around Palisade Avenue.

“I have trouble imagining that construction workers over a four-year period are going to be content parking miles away in Yonkers,” CB8 vice chair Paul Ellis said.

Any deal to move forward would include a restricted covenant requiring construction workers to keep their cars away, said Gary Tarnoff, a lawyer representing the Hebrew Home.

“That is going to be part of the zoning approval,” he said. “If there is a complaint, the buildings department will go out and issue a violation. Potentially, permits could be pulled. It is something that is very serious.”

Yet, even with parking out of the way, construction trucks will not have many choices to get to Hebrew Home, with access points limited to West 261st and West 254th streets.

Those streets “are like community lanes,” board member Laura Spalter said. “They are a very unique part of the community.” 

Construction vehicles using those streets — coupled with planned construction work at SAR Academy on West 254th, could make traffic on those streets a nightmare.

But the Hebrew Home won’t overlook traffic impacts there, Tarnoff said, with plans to form a task force or advisory committee on how West 261st will be affected.

Although there is a compromise on the table, Cohen suggested there was still room to modify it even more. Yet, he implored the community board to set a deadline of Friday to finalize such a deal, so that members can have the weekend to fully think about the vote they’re expected to cast Monday.

The entire board is expected to meet as the land use committee on June 18 beginning at 6:30 p.m., at American Legion Post 774 on Corlear Avenue. After that, the same members will officially convene as the community board, and are expected to take a single vote — either giving Hebrew Home its blessing, or shooting it down.

Either way, that vote is only advisory, as the final decision lies with city officials, and ultimately with city council. All of these bureaucratic layers are expected to wrap up before the end of the year.

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