Post-St. Vincent’s debate continues on two fronts

By ALBERT AMATEAU  |  It was all about St. Vincent’s from morning till night last Thursday, Sept. 22.

At 10 a.m. the state Health Planning Council heard testimony on the conversion of St. Vincent’s O’Toole Pavilion on the west side of Seventh Ave. into a comprehensive community health center with a free-standing emergency department to be operated by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Later that day, at the 6 p.m. Community Board 2 meeting, opponents and supporters debated the Rudin Organization’s proposed redevelopment of the former hospital’s east campus into a 450-unit condo residential complex.

In a joint statement to the Health Planning Council, local elected officials said that while they were concerned about certain details of the planned health center, they acknowledged that it would provide significant community healthcare to the Lower West Side.

Nevertheless, the local politicians said they would continue to advocate for a full-service acute-care hospital. The joint statement by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, state Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also noted that the state Department of Health had found there was a continued need for St. Vincent’s up until its closure last year. But the politicians added that, “No experienced healthcare provider has yet put forth a credible proposal to re-establish a hospital on the site.”

The elected officials, however, remained concerned about the Fire Department Emergency Medical Service protocols for delivering patients to the proposed health center and for transferring them to full-service hospitals.

Although the North Shore-L.I.J.  emergency department would serve more than 90 percent of the patients who received treatment at the St. Vincent’s emergency room, ambulances would have to take some patients to other hospitals.

“The [Department of Health] must not approve this application until and unless North Shore-L.I.J. and the Emergency Medical Service have established ambulance protocols,” the statement said.

In addition, the elected officials suggested that the proposed O’Toole health center could also accommodate a full-service hospital at a later date.

“A new full-service hospital remains our goal. If the center is approved, we will continue to urge in the strongest possible way that North Shore-L.I.J. or another provider build upon the service [the health center] offers,” the statement said.

Nevertheless, most people at the Health Planning hearing called for a full-service hospital and told the department to reject the North Shore-L.I.J. center.

Members of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital submitted statements contending the proposed comprehensive care center and free-standing emergency department would inevitably put patients at risk.

The coalition has submitted a petition with more than 2,000 signatures opposing the North Shore-L.I.J. center, as well as the Rudin residential project on the east side of the avenue.

Both the residential project and the North Shore-L.I.J. health center are part of the same current city uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) currently underway.

At the C.B. 2 meeting, neighbors of the former hospital urged the community board not to recommend the zoning required to accommodate the large-scale residential development.

Al Butzel, the attorney representing Protect the Village Historic District, which was founded three years ago in response to the Rudin plan, said, “The zoning is being manipulated in this case.” Rudin is seeking a rezoning that would increase development at the site by 40 percent more than ordinary residential zoning, Butzel noted.

He said the group was also against a proposed underground parking garage, which would be the fourth one on W. 12th St. between Seventh and Sixth Aves.

Gary Tomei, a member of Protect the Village Historic District, said the Rudin project would set a precedent for New York University’s request for large-scale development of its two superblocks in the South Village.

Philip Schaeffer, a lawyer representing the W. 13th St. 100 Block Association, said that Rudin has not shown that the residential development would benefit the neighborhood.

However, John Gilbert, chief operating officer of the Rudin Organization, pointed out that Rudin has guaranteed that space would be available for a 564-seat elementary school on the first six floors of the Foundling Hospital on Sixth Ave. and W. 17th St. The school space is guaranteed whether or not the residential project is approved.

The Rudin-financed plan to create and maintain a 15,000-square-foot park on the triangle across W. 12th St. from the O’Toole building would be an important public benefit of the project, Gilbert added.

More than 1,200 construction jobs and more than 500 permanent jobs — including 400 healthcare jobs — will result from the development on both sides of Seventh Ave. at 12th St., Gilbert said. Moreover, the application to build 590,660 square feet represents a 13 percent reduction from the 677,360 square feet of developed space currently on the site, Gilbert said.

The project also has the backing of Local 1199, the union representing the city’s hospital employees.

“This comprehensive project has our support because it will restore much-needed access to emergency care for everyone who lives and works on the West Side and would provide an opportunity for more than 400 caregivers to get back to what they do best, providing quality healthcare to those in need,” said Kevin Finnegan, 1199 political director, in a Sept. 22 statement on the Rudin-L.I.J. project.

Andrea Goldwyn, representing the New York Landmarks Conservancy, told the community board that the conservancy reaffirmed its support of Rudin’s residential conversion on the east side of the avenue.

Testifying in 2008 before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on the original version of the Rudin plan, the conservancy urged Rudin to lower the height of its proposed residential tower and to reuse some of its existing buildings, Goldwyn recalled. Rudin eventually reduced the height of the large tower from 266 to 203 feet and instead of all-new construction, decided to adapt and reuse four of the original existing hospital buildings on the east campus.

“We appreciate the Rudin Organization’s responsiveness to both ours and the commission’s suggestions,” Goldwyn said.

The Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce cited the economic benefit of both the residential project and the health center in its support of the project.

“The closure of St. Vincent’s has had a devastating effect on our local economy,” said Tony Juliano, president of the chamber, in a statement last week. “The proposal put forth by the Rudins and North Shore-L.I.J. will return healthcare to the neighborhood and will also help bolster many existing businesses and spur other small businesses to come to the Village,” he said.

Since St. Vincent’s closure in April 2010, more than 30 small businesses have closed their doors and many of the remaining nearby businesses have seen a devastating decline, Juliano said.

Steve Rogers, a chamber member and owner of a neighborhood restaurant, said, “We’re very much looking forward to both the healthcare facility and the condo across the street. Let’s move on this, so it’s not delayed five or 10 years.”