Proposal for new L.E.S. care center sparks debate

BY Aline Reynolds

A proposal to erect a new health care facility at 265-275 Cherry St. on the Lower East Side is infuriating some nearby residents.

The HealthCare Chaplaincy plans to build a 16-story palliative care center on a parking lot adjacent to the mixed-income residence. The center, which would be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (L.E.E.D.) certified, would lodge and provie support services to approximately 120 patients with cancer, congestive heart failure and other serious illnesses. It would also provide outpatient care.

“We want to have a place where people who might have three years to live could get spiritual support, medication management and have a place where they could make use of a lot of activities,” said Claire Altman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the HealthCare Chaplaincy.

The in-house patients would receive constant physical and emotional care as well as partake in pastimes such as card games, meditation and visual art. The multi-prong service, Altman explained, “is a very useful component in the longer care continuum that has not been met much.”

Construction of the $130 million center would begin in early 2012 and would be scheduled to open at the end of 2013. The Chaplaincy, Altman said, is still searching for funding from both public and private sources. “We’re very confident that we’re going to pull it all together,” she said.

The facility would replace an outdoor parking lot with an indoor facility located in the eastern portion of the building. Altman said that no parking spaces would be lost.

Some believe the project would be a welcome addition to the community. “People who are dying need this service,” said Victor Papa, president and director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a community development organization that promotes the social and economic development of the Lower East Side. The HealthCare Chaplaincy, he added, is a not-for-profit organization “with very altruistic, good motives.”

The T.B.N.C. offices, located at 275 Cherry St., would share the outdoor parking lot – the future location of the care center — with the residents.

But other community members are contesting the creation of a public center that would be so close to home. They raised questions about the project at a recent Community Board 3 meeting following an updated presentation by the HealthCare Chaplaincy staff.

“The residents are very concerned about noise pollution and dust pollution,” said C.B. 3 member Ricky Leung, president of the Cherry Street Tenants Association. He and other residents fault the chaplaincy staff for being unresponsive to their concerns about the development.

Some fear that were the HealthCare Chaplaincy to abandon the project midway or to relocate the facility later on, the community would be stuck with a building that could conceivably be transformed into a luxury, high-rise residence. This, Leung explained, could possibly jeopordize his buildings’ affordable housing units.

The 265-275 Cherry St. tenants’ Section 8 vouchers are set to expire in the summer of 2013. “Due to the fact that the affordable housing stock is being targeted left and right… when somebody’s coming in and being vague and nonresponsive at times, fright rises,” he said.

“If this is achieved by the Chaplaincy… it would set a precedent that all [U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development] housing planned by the neighborhoods and local officials… would be open to indiscriminate changes, money grabbers and encroachment [on] the original building and surrounding layouts,” said Angelica Rovira, a resident of 275 Cherry St.

The workers traveling to and from the facility, she said, would become “an added burden” to the “tranquil” neighborhood. “This will be a business in a residential neighborhood, more explicitly inside a residential area,” she said. Rovira also fears the loss of outdoor parking, which she said is an essential amenity for seniors and disabled people.

“I’m against it. We don’t need [another health center],” said 86-year-old Charles Tang, who has lived at 265 Cherry St. since the late ‘90s. He and the other neighborhood seniors, Tang said, receive ample care from the nearby Gouverneur Healthcare Services (at 227 Madison St.).

The facility, he said, would obstruct residents’ view of the East River and attract more cars and people in an already-crowded neighborhood. “Traffic is a hazard to young kids and a danger to the seniors,” he said.

The facility, Altman countered, will be very residential in its design and operations. “We personally don’t think it’ll be disruptive,” she said. “We wanted to be in a neighborhood where there are a mix of incomes…and where we could serve people who genuinely need this [care]. Unfortunately, some people don’t get the benefits.”

Papa said he and others are in discussions with the Chaplaincy’s staff about appeasing the community by creating jobs for Lower East Siders and focusing on providing care for neighborhood residents. “With concessions, we endorse this,” he said. “What else can we do? It’s private property – the Chaplaincy has a right to build there.”