Upper West Side Nursing Home Wants the Old Rules

Just weeks shy of the City Council taking a vote to downzone the Upper West Side, a nursing home wants a special provision that would permit 14- and 15-story towers to be built on its property.

The Jewish Home & Hospital is planning to modernize its Manhattan campus, located between 105th and 106th streets, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, by selling off the eastern half of its land to a residential developer who would build up to a 145-foot tower. Using the revenues, the home would consolidate its offices and resident rooms into a new 175-foot, 15-story tower on the western side. The home wants to retain the current zoning, which would permit these developments.

The nonprofit had not finished preliminary consultations with the state Department of Health on the proposed reconfiguration until last December, according to Bruce Nathanson, senior vice president for marketing and communications. By that point, the rezoning process, sponsored by the city’s Department of City Planning, had already begun.

The nursing home made its case to community board leaders in March and to the City Planning Commission in July, but neither panel was willing to make changes to the formal rezoning application that would allow the Jewish Home to be grandfathered under existing rules. Mr. Nathanson said that the home considered other possibilities, such as trying to upzone the parcels after the downzoning, or going through the Board of Standards and Appeals, but neither seemed possible.

“We were trying to find a solution to our needs,” he told The Observer. “I wanted to find a solution to build a new skilled nursing facility. Our job is to serve our families, our residents and to be a good neighbor to the community.”

If the rezoning goes through, the new buildings could only be 120 feet tall along 106th Street, Mr. Nathanson said.

Some Upper West Siders are stressing that the integrity of the months-long process would be ruined if it changed this late in the game, and that giving one institution special treatment would open up floodgates for more.

“A rather important and reasonably democratic process had been going on for 18 to 24 months, which in many ways was morale building, and the system was working,” said Ethel Sheffer, an urban planner and chairwoman of the West Side Rezoning Task Force for the community board. “We all respect the Jewish Home & Hospital and we all want them to continue to be part of this community, but it is equally important that a collaborative, unanimous process get worked out by the community.”

The local City Council Member, Melissa Mark Viverito, would need to support changes to the rezoning in order to get it past the whole Council. She was not available for comment, but she and other elected officials submitted a letter to the planning commission that called for modifications “to enable Jewish Home to achieve their development goals, but at appropriate heights for the neighborhood.”

At the urging of Ms. Viverito and other elected officials, the Jewish Home is holding a public forum 6 p.m. tomorrow at its campus, 120 West 106th Street, to explain its proposal.