How Keen Is Manhattan Valley?
Dana Rubinstein Oct. 13, 2009, 3:10 p.m.
An unexpected alliance between a powerful developer and a neighborhood retirement home is causing an uproar in the Manhattan Valley section of the famously ornery Upper West Side.
Enigmatic developer Joseph Chetrit and Jewish Home Lifecare, which has a campus at 120 West 106th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, have decided to swap properties.
In exchange for its 106th Street campus, the retirement home will receive both cash and the right to develop a 22-story replacement retirement home atop a parking lot within Mr. Chetrit’s Park West Village on 100th Street. Mr. Chetrit, in turn, will get the right to build luxury condominiums on one of the most desirable sites in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Manhattan.
The reason for the uproar is rooted in the history of the 106th Street campus itself.
Back in 2007, Upper West Side community groups, appalled by the erection of Extell’s 37-story and 31-story Ariel East and West condos at 100th Street and Broadway, succeeded in down-zoning much of the neighborhood to prevent future tall developments. At the time, the Jewish Home requested a special carve-out, or exemption, from the down-zoning, arguing that it needed to retain development rights in order to remain viable. The community board granted the Jewish Home’s request.
The Jewish Home’s original plan was to bid out a portion of its campus to a developer, and thereby subsidize the creation of a new retirement home on the existing site.
And then came the credit crunch, that greatest of party crashers.
“In early 2008, we sent out 2,000 letters to developers, brokers and so on in the New York metropolitan area and around the country,” recalled Ethan Geto, the Jewish Home’s lobbyist and spokesman. “We got back about 70 meaningful replies, which got boiled down to about 10. Then as we started negotiating, they started all falling by the wayside because of the recession.”
The only developer that remained? Mr. Chetrit. And his contentious land-swap proposal.
“Now people are saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you got this special exemption and now you’re dealing with Chetrit?’” said Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president.
Further inflaming the debate is the fact that residents of Park West Village aren’t particularly ecstatic about the coming of a new 22-story building.
“Unfortunately, where they want to build the Jewish Home and hospital is a real hardship for the community, because that was supposed to be the open space part of this deal [in Park West],” Mr. Stringer said.
Mr. Geto, for his part, contends that the open space in question is merely a parking lot, and that the new building will contain publicly accessible open space. Mr. Geto also maintains that Mr. Chetrit doesn’t even want the existing zoning carve-out on 106th Street: The carve-out would allow him to build taller, but the zoning preferred by the community would allow Mr. Chetrit to build more densely.
“What some people in the community felt, people who are, let’s say, cynical, was that all along the Jewish Home really had a secret plan to retain carve-out because it would be much more attractive to sell the entire campus to a developer,” Mr. Geto said. “That premise is completely wrong.”
Be that as it may, elected officials and community board members remain skeptical. They have demanded that the Jewish Home and Mr. Chetrit sign a restrictive declaration promising not to develop the 106th Street site beyond the more restrictive zoning. And the local City Council member, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is drafting legislation to eliminate the zoning carve-out at the heart of the controversy.
The chairwoman of Community Board 7, Helen Rosenthal, called the planned declaration “a responsible reaction to an ironic situation.”
Meanwhile, one side in the conflict has taken pains to stress the importance of the retirement home to the community. “It’s not a betrayal,” Mr. Geto contended. “The only thing it is, it’s unexpected.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Chetrit did not respond by press time.