A NEW ROUND IN ZONING FIGHT

Hebrew Home unveils revised development plan, but many neighbors are still opposed

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There’s a long way to go before the Hebrew Home at Riverdale can turn dirt on a Palisade Avenue expansion that would bring New York City its first continuing care retirement community.

But if it were up to some neighbors surrounding the riverfront property — it’s one expansion that would never be built.

Daniel Reingold, chief executive of Hebrew Home’s non-profit parent RiverSpring Health, took his case in front of Community Board 8’s land use committee yet again, this time on the College of Mount Saint Vincent campus. His goal? Eliminate what he describes as myths circulating the community about his project, with the hope that facts will pave the way to some neighborly support.

“Today, older adults want financial security in their old age,” Reingold said. “They don’t want to be in the position of divesting their assets to get on Medicaid, and they don’t want to be in the position of spending whatever money they have for another.”

Called River’s Edge, the Hebrew Home’s continuing care retirement community — better known as a CCRC — would open 388 units across three higher-density buildings on its existing campus overlooking the Hudson River. Its primary building, planned for the northern campus, would have 217 units through 12 stories. 

Two smaller buildings will be constructed on a southern parcel where the former Passionist Retreat building currently stands. These buildings will be six and four stories, moving south, with 117 units.

 

Not for the wealthy?

“It’s not an apartment building, there is no purchase price,” Reingold said. “It is not for the wealthy. It’s intended for, believe it or not, the middle class population.”

That’s something one neighbor, architect Martin Zelnik, just can’t believe. Not only does he feel the average buy-in fee of between $400,000 and $700,000 makes CCRCs only accessible to the wealthy, but if the city allows the Hebrew Home to obtain a special permit to build on the Passionist Retreat property, it will create a “domino effect” through the rest of the community.

“To what extent do you think your building these apartments houses — and that is what they are, you can call them anything else — will set a precedent?” Zelnik asked. “That other groups will come in and build CCRCs along the Hudson, based on the criteria that you’re establishing?”

A major concern centers around the Schervier Nursing Care Center, some two miles downriver on Independence Avenue, which has available land to expand its facility, who Zelnik believes might be encouraged if Hebrew Home gets the green light.

But that won’t happen, Reingold said, going as far as declaring there will be no other CCRCs in Riverdale’s Special Natural Area District. 

“The reason is very simple,” he said. “Based on the requirements needed to build something like this, there are no other sites in any R-1-1 district in the entire city of New York that would be able to accommodate a CCRC. This Pandora’s Box is nonsense, and you know it.”

Another neighbor, Jennifer Klein, was less interested in what Reingold was proposing, and more focused on what he wasn’t — transforming the Passionist Retreat property into a series of about 40 cottages that would keep construction at ground level.

“I can tell you that our community was pretty happy when we saw that,” she said. 

Building the cottages would not only be cost-prohibitive to the project, Reingold said, but it also would require 100 percent of the site. The higher-density buildings would open up 92 percent of the land, and also provide access to the proposed greenway along the Hudson.

Even that didn’t resonate with Klein.

“You keep mentioning open space, but when you look at the free space around your house, that is open space,” she said. “Do you have the public coming into your open space? Probably not.”

 

No variance needed

Hebrew Home’s CCRC does not require rezoning or variance. Instead, all it needs is a special permit, made possible through the zoning for quality and affordability resolution that passed city council in 2016. 

Its plans are now in front of city planning officials, and after that will move to the community board where it will have 60 days to consider the application and vote, according to CB8 land use chair Charles Moerdler.

During that time, Moerdler hopes to convene two committee meetings about the proposal, to be followed by a full CB8 meeting to take a final vote.

From there, the CCRC moves to Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., and his borough board, before returning to the city planning commission for a vote. If the commission approves, the last stop would be the city council.

“It is a process that technically takes 120 days,” Moerdler said. “I’m sure it’s going to take more in this case.”


No construction soon

Reingold told The Riverdale Press in the past that even with all approvals in hand, it would be at least 2019 before any significant work toward building a CCRC would get underway. He described the five-year process as one where he listened closely to the community, and made changes — even costly ones — to make River’s Edge a reality.

“I’ve been through (the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) four times, and every time I’ve been through it, it’s been my experience that the preference for the Riverdale community is open space,” Reingold said. “We designed (River’s Edge) to be buildings oriented east and west, where there would be views through the buildings. This was all done in consideration of our neighbors.”

Although no timetable was released, CB8 could be considering Hebrew Home’s expansion application as early as late spring to early summer.

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