BY ALBERT AMATEAU | The City Planning Commission on Monday unanimously approved Rudin Management’s plan for the residential redevelopment of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus.
The Jan. 23 vote, with Amanda Burden, commission chairperson, and 11 other commissioners attending, took less than 10 minutes.
It was the next-to-last step in the city’s uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, for a project that would create 450 new condominium apartments on the east side of Seventh Ave. and a 17,000-square-foot park in the triangle on the west side of the avenue.
The City Council has the final word and must now vote within 60 days whether to approve the $800 million project.
The redevelopment plan includes converting four former hospital buildings to residential use, a new 16-story apartment tower, a new 10-story apartment building on W. 12th St., and a new seven-story residence on W. 11th St. and five five-story townhouses also on W. 11th St.
Although not included in the city’s ULURP review, the project also calls for converting St. Vincent’s O’Toole building on the west side of Seventh Ave. into a comprehensive community healthcare center with a 24-hour, free-standing emergency department. The O’Toole center will be run by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, which is investing $100 million in the project, with a $10 million contribution by Rudin.
In their comments during the Monday vote, several commissioners urged Rudin to include an AIDS memorial in the triangle park. They also said the healthcare center was an important factor in their approval of the project, even though it was not part of the review.
Maria Del Toro, one of the commissioners, said she was sorry that St. Vincent’s, which pioneered in care for AIDS patients, closed but she acknowledged that a full-service hospital replacement was not possible.
Just prior to the vote, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio urged the commission to develop and integrate and AIDS memorial on the triangle site. De Blasio cited wide public support in the neighborhood and in community-based organizations for an AIDS memorial in the open-space triangle.
Moreover, some commissioners urged Rudin to continue to work with the community to explore an affordable housing option, even though it is not part of the project.
Although the voting session was not open for public comment, opponents told reporters in the lobby of the Department of City Planning’s Reade St. headquarters that they expected the approval but would continue to fight the project as it goes to the City Council.
“It is deeply disappointing that the City Planning Commission rubber-stamped this plan and granted a well-connected developer privileges which were originally intended for a hospital,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
“We urge the City Council not to make this same mistake, and to protect our neighborhoods and our public facilities, and the special considerations given to them, from being exploited this way by private developers,” Berman added.
The project site lies within City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s district and consequently she will have the most influence on the way the Council votes, Berman noted.
Quinn, who will be term-limited out of her seat at the end of next year, is likely to run for mayor. Many expect Berman to run for her Council seat, but he’s never publicly said if he will run.
A member of Concerned Residents of the West Village distributed a news release on Jan. 23 opposing the proposed rezoning that would increase the scale of residential development on the hospital site. Another issue for the West Village group, which includes several W. 12th St. residents, is the proposed demolition of the former hospital’s Reiss building on W. 12th St. and its replacement with a 12-story apartment house, instead of a residential conversion of the existing structure.
The group is also concerned about a proposed underground garage on the Reiss site and the plan to allow retail space in the planned Seventh Ave. tower, which is to wrap around W. 12th St.
Community Board 2, in its ULURP advisory recommendations, submitted those concerns to the City Planning hearing in November but the issues were not addressed. The West Village group also complains that the Rudin plan would unnecessarily change the character of W. 12 St. by increasing population density and vehicle traffic.
The proposed underground garage would be in addition to three already on W. 12th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. The group contends that the excavation and shoring for the garage would threaten surrounding buildings that date to the 1840s.
Also protesting the vote were longtime advocates for a new full-service hospital on the St. Vincent’s campus.
“We have 20,000 signatures on a petition for a new hospital,” said Evette Stark-Katz, who recalled spending a night in The Tombs after her arrest last February during a demonstration at the shuttered hospital.
Timmy Lunceford, also locked up overnight on that occasion, joined advocates who insisted that the proposed O’Toole community health center was not an adequate substitution for a full-service hospital with a trauma Level 1 emergency room.
Yetta Kurland, a founder of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, also vowed later to oppose the project as it moved to the City Council.
“The vital health concerns of over a million New Yorkers who live and work on Manhattan’s Lower West Side were not taken into account by this vote,” Kurland said. The coalition is planning a Jan. 31 town hall meeting with Occupy Wall Street Health Care, with a time and place to be announced later, Kurland said. The coalition also intends to demonstrate at City Hall at 9 a.m. Thurs., Feb. 9, for restoration of a full-service hospital in the neighborhood.
Nevertheless, business groups, including the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, hailed the vote.
“Because of the closing of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in 2010, over 30 small businesses have permanently shut their doors and local residents have been living without essential emergency medical services. But with the City Planning approval, we are one step closer to filling that void, bringing quality jobs, new customers and healthcare to our community,” said Tom Gray, G.V.C.C.C. executive director.