Opponents say they'll compromise on expansion plan

Will Hebrew Home accept olive branch?

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If there’s a compromise on the table that could end the controversy over the Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s expansion plans, it’s news to Daniel Reingold.

Just a week before the assisted living facility’s chief executive is set to face public comment again in his bid to build a 388-unit, multi-building continuing care retirement community — or CCRC — on his Palisade Avenue campus, Reingold told The Riverdale Press through a spokeswoman that he has not been “presented with any formal compromise plan.”

But some of the neighbors just off the eastern bank of the Hudson River opposed to the plan say a compromise is indeed in the works.

“We have submitted a compromise,” architect Sherida Paulsen told an editorial board convened by The Press last week. She wouldn’t share details, except that it did call for a reduction in density and height.

Finding common ground between neighbors and the Hebrew Home — which hopes to replace the former Passionist Retreat building on its south campus with two buildings no higher than six stories, along with a 12-story structure on its north campus — has been almost impossible. Yet, the middle ground is exactly where Community Board 8 land use committee chair Charles Moerdler was trying to pull everyone.

“There are and have been continuing talks with all the various sides,” said Moerdler, whose committee has been officially hearing the Hebrew Home application over the last several weeks. “The issue is whether people are prepared to view, through a realistic lens, the idea of what the word ‘compromise’ is.”

It would be virtually impossible to completely stop expansion at the Hebrew Home, Moerdler said, so the goal is to try and find something palatable for both sides. Reingold told The Press editorial board that without the extra income from a CCRC, the nonprofit’s ability to stave off a for-profit takeover could end in just a few years.

A CCRC would provide a middle ground for older residents who might be looking to downsize, but don’t need to move into an assisted living facility. CCRC units would be available for a buy-in between $400,000 and $1.2 million, plus a monthly services fee, which would not only pay for someone’s care the rest of their lives, but return up to 80 percent of their buy-in fee to their estate after they die, Reingold said.

Neighbors, however, don’t want any of it. Building nearly 400 residential units goes against the Special Natural Area District that the Hebrew Home campus is a part of, and some of the taller buildings could block their views of the river.

Non-profit nursing homes in the city are quickly heading to extinction, Moerdler said, and that’s not a good thing. He spent years fighting for-profit institutions which he believes are more focused on the bottom line in many cases than the services they provide.

Hebrew Home, like many assisted living facilities, heavily depend on Medicaid and Medicare — reimbursements that are out of the Hebrew Home’s control, but which can also make it difficult to make ends meet.

In fact, Hebrew Home has lost $24 million over the past two years, Reingold said, a burn rate that is not sustainable for more than “a few years.” 

A for-profit company would eliminate that loss through personnel and service cuts, Moerdler said. 

“You can call it ‘efficiencies,’ you may even call it ‘updating,’ but it is still a change,” Moerdler said. “It’s four nurses instead of five. It’s two ice creams instead of four. But it is change, and the people who suffer that change are the people who are defenseless in those situations.”

Although the June 7 meeting was supposed to be focused on land use committee member comments, Moerdler instead has re-opened public debate, and will give members of the community another chance to speak. That meeting, at the Riverdale Temple at Independence Avenue and West 240th Street, will start at 7 p.m.

A second land use meeting will follow the next Monday, June 11, at Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, 475 W. 250th St., before going in front of the entire CB8 board June 18.

No compromise will make both sides happy, but then again, it’s not supposed to, Moerdler said.

“Everybody has to have a narrowing of their wishlist,” he said, “but it is something hopefully that could be for the ultimate good of the community.”

Reingold, however, might not be fully receptive to a compromise.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars changing this design,” he said about the various iterations of the CCRC plan over the last five years. “I’m not starting this over.” 

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