Testimony By NYS Senator Thomas K. Duane before the New York City Planning Commission Regarding the St. Vincent's Campus Redevelopment Proposal

June 28, 2011

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which St. Vincent's Hospital was located. Thank you for the opportunity to present my comments on the Draft Scope of Work for the St. Vincent's Campus redevelopment proposal before the City Planning Commission (CPC) today.

As you may recall, I testified on a similar proposal in December 2009, in decidedly different circumstances. The loss of St. Vincent's hospital in April 2010 has been devastating on many levels for our community, and it overshadows this entire proposal, which remains the largest project to be proposed in the history of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Indeed, the project's anticipated short and long-term environmental impacts will be much more difficult for our community to bear without a state-of-the-art, level one trauma center as a mitigation.

Although the proposal being heard today has been modified, many of my previous concerns remain and new questions that must be addressed have emerged. I wish to outline just some of the areas that I believe warrant further study beyond what is described in the Draft Scope of Work.

First, although, I understand that North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's (NS-LIJ) proposed Center for Comprehensive Care at the O'Toole building site would be as of right under the New York City Zoning resolution and thus is not within CPC's purview, there are legitimate questions worthy of study regarding the proposed facility's impact on the public health and safety of area residents.

As I believe we would all agree, nothing less than another full service, acute care hospital providing high quality care to all patients regardless of ability to pay is a true replacement for St. Vincent's Hospital. I will continue to advocate for such a facility, but in its absence, the proposed Center for Comprehensive Care has the potential to provide some of the most vital healthcare services our community needs. NS-LIJ has indicated that its proposed free-standing Emergency Department (ED) would be able to treat more than 90% of the conditions seen at the former St. Vincent's emergency room.

However, some stakeholders have raised questions about whether the community would be better off without a healthcare facility at that site if it is anything less than a full service hospital. Some have suggested that people who have one of the life-threatening conditions the freestanding ED is not equipped to treat could be worse off for having chosen to go there rather than across town or uptown to an acute care hospital. Some have asserted that the time that would be lost while NS-LIJ's emergency department staff evaluate, stabilize and prepare patients for transport to a hospital in the ambulance stationed outside the facility could cost lives. These concerns should be formally addressed within the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Up until its closure in April, 2010, St. Vincent's was a leader in providing services to marginalized populations. As a way to mitigate lost services to the immediate area, I am especially interested in the development of special needs housing as well as affordable housing in at least one of the Rudin residential buildings. I suggest the study of an alternative that includes 30% of the total units as special needs and low- to moderate- income housing as it pertains to community facilities and services, socioeconomic conditions and the neighborhood character. I look forward to continued conversations with Rudin Management about the financial feasibility, potential funding sources government and neighborhood will, and appropriate space to address this crucial issue.

This proposal will also have an effect on the area's public schools. The Draft Scope of Work estimates that the new residential units will add 57 elementary and 18 middle school children to the neighborhood. I recognize that these figures are based on ratios in the CEQR Technical Manual but this estimate seems astonishingly low. Regardless, Community School District 2 (CSD2), in which the proposed development would be located, has faced chronically overcrowded public schools as its residential population has continued to grow. To its credit, the Rudin Management has proactively addressed this strain by facilitating an agreement between the NYC School Construction Authority and the Foundling Hospital to create a much-needed elementary school. However, Greenwich Village has been sorely lacking a middle school since overcrowding at P.S. 3 at 490 Hudson Street forced Greenwich Village Middle School to move out of that facility last year and to relocate to a building in the Financial District. I encourage Rudin Management to explore ways to underwrite and otherwise facilitate the development of a true neighborhood middle school at the New York State-owned building at 75 Morton Street or some other location to accommodate not only its own residents but the overall community's growing middle grades population.

I was also troubled to find in the Draft Scope of Work that a "detailed quantified traffic, transit and pedestrian analyses are not expected to be required." Even small changes to traffic patterns can have a huge impact on the neighborhood in question, especially on Greenwich Village's small, irregularly angled street crossings. As CB2 stated in its resolution, the new residential development and healthcare facility will "entail significant changes in parking patterns, vehicular usage and speed, ambulance use and routing, pedestrian access and safety concerns," which should be studied extensively.

While there many points that should be considered in a detailed transportation analysis, I wish to draw particular attention to the proposal that the MTA-New York City Transit M20 Bus stop, currently located at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and West 12th Street, be moved one block south, to the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue at the point where they converge with West 11th Street. This is a notoriously complex intersection for pedestrians and vehicles to navigate. Furthermore, while the current bus stop would allow passengers exiting the bus to enter the Center for Comprehensive Care or transfer to the IRT subway without having to cross an intersection, the new stop would force them to cross West 12th Street, where the health center's ambulance and vehicle entry will be located. These impacts and potential alternatives merit careful consideration.

There are also many construction concerns that I believe can be mitigated with thoughtful planning. As you are well aware, this project is located in the Greenwich Village Historic District and contains and abuts multiple historically significant buildings. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should detail how these structures will be monitored and protected during construction. It should also include detailed analyses of street closures, length of construction stages, safe asbestos removal, proactive rodent abatement, and how this project may overlap with construction of the MTA-New York City Transit's emergency ventilation facility at 61 Greenwich Avenue.

Finally, I appreciate Rudin Management's proposal to redesign and make publicly accessible the Triangle site's open space. I am further encouraged that it is willing to consider removing the material handling facility on the west side of the site in order to more than double the size of the anticipated community park. I urge this alternative to be studied as well as the potential relocation or elimination of the oxygen tanks currently on the site.

Thank you for allowing me to testify today and for your consideration of my recommendations.

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