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Common Council Corral:
Council votes to keep Hospital Scope Session open, against Hospital attorney's wishes. Scoping suggestions will resume May 7.
After 3 hours of vocal opposition from majority of Southend residents over Hospital Cancer Center/Proton Accelerator, Council agrees to hear some more.
Council may curtail public comment to less than 10 days after May 7 to give Planning Department time to assemble Scoping Document for the DEIS.
Hospital agrees to 66-day period, dating from March 13. Deadline for Scope is May 21.
Malmud does not trust that city staff has expertise to review scoping document.
The "White Plains 7" approves 75 foot height zoning as of right in the BR-2 District, allowing, in effect, JPI 300 Mamaroneck Avenue building to be built without a Special Permit. Project still requires Council approval.
Council votes to approve $19,000 for computer visualization of proposed zoning requirements.
To share city lobbyist with the school district.
By John F. Bailey
CityLine: April 2-3, 2001 -- City Hall
Just when you thought it was safe to go to a Common Council meeting without having to explain to your spouse why you are coming in to the bedroom at 2 in the morning, the New York Presbyterian Hospital Cancer Center Scoping Hearing began Monday night at City Hall.
After three hours of issue-raising, the Scoping Hearing to determine questions the Hospital DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) must address in order to obtain possible approval of their 2-building Cancer Center and biomedical research lab project, will continue at the next Council meeting May 7.
A gathering of approximately 70 citizens, (about 50 of whom were concerned with the hospital issue) featured the usual suspects, colorful personalities, with some new political players, and included the insurgent Democratic Mayoral hopeful, William Ryan, getting a "leg up" on a ready-made campaign issue.
They paraded one after another before the podium, their finishes applauded, with the meeting adjourning at 1:22 AM Tuesday morning, after the Council had voted by voice vote to keep the "scope session" open to be concluded May 7.
Very few of the speakers supported the state-of-the-art cancer center even coming to White Plains. They raised three basic issues: safety, traffic and property values. A handful of speakers supported the project if it could be located on the northern portion of the Hospital property, such as behind Bloomingdale's, or on the Northern Westchester Avenue end of the property.
Bryant Avenue, South End neighborhoods seen threatened...
The project seeks to build two 3 story buildings into the slopes alongside Bryant Avenue with two separate 5-story parking garages, plus drainage ponds. Residents speaking characterized the complex as potentially too dangerous to the adjacent neighborhoods, generating too much traffic, that would cost the city too much to provide increased police, fire, water, costs, potentially raising taxes and having a negative impact the values of the city's most affluent neighborhoods.
One speaker at the very close, said if the project was approved, it would signal to "the South End time to get out."
The Common Council to a man and woman, soberly listened and appeared pale and grim, showing quiet anguish and hurt. Residents spoke of the concerns they had about the proposed Hospital Cancer Center and new Bourne Research Lab building and how it will change life in the Bryant Gardens, Gedney Farms and North Street corridors.
To start, the hospital representatives gave an extraordinary long overview from 9:20 PM to about 10 PM, which obviously tried Mayor Delfino's patience who attempted to cut them short several times. This was followed by three hours of repetitive commentary from residents mostly from the Southeast corner of the city who spoke of matters they wanted covered in the DEIS.
Not enough time a frequent complaint...
Some complained they had not time to study the Hospital Scoping Document filed with the Common Council on March 22 (30 days after the Council voted under pressure to settle on February 22). Marc Pollitzer, representing the Council of Neighborhood Associations and the North Street Civic Association, said many residents did not know of the proposal, having received copies of the Hospital Scoping Document scant days before, and strongly urged the Council to keep the hearing open.
Planning, other city departments on short turnaround...
Stephen Kass, attorney for the hospital argued when the last speaker, Barbara Benjamin, had spoken, that the Council would be putting itself in a spot if they did not adjourn the hearing at this time. He pointed out that the Council would only have 4 days from May 17 to May 21 to assemble the Final Scoping Document, if they allowed the usual 10-day comment period after closing a public hearing.
The Mayor said that this was a short period of time, but that the city departments would assimilate comments as they are made, to start the Final Scoping Document the Hospital would have to build the DEIS around in time to meet the May 21 deadline.
Ten Day Comment period after May 7 hearing may be shortened...
Ms. Malmud asked if the comment period could be limited. Edward Dunphy, Corporation Counsel, said the Council was within its rights to pass a resolution limiting the comment period, after the May 7 meeting, perhaps to 5 days or less, giving the Planning Department more time to execute the Scoping Document.
Dunphy told WPCNR after adjournment that if the Planning Department did not complete the Scoping Document by the hospital deadline of May 21, the document that will be used for the scope would be the original Hospital Scope submitted with the plan -- the very document that residents were responding to Monday evening.
A contention when the 66 days should start from... Hospital attorney refuses more time for city departments to assemble "The Scope."
The May 21 date was determined by the settlement of the Hospital lawsuit against the city over the Common Council refusal to review the Plan B in the first place last July 17.
In that settlement the city agreed to review Plan B/now "The NYPH Health Science Master Plan" in its entirety, within 60 days from the date the Common Council (the lead city agency) received the Hospital Scoping Document/proposal. The hospital granted an additional 6 days of review time at the request of the city. May 21 is 60 days from March 22, the night the Common Council received the Hospital Scoping document for the first time.
Stephen Kass, the hospital attorney, said the hospital had already agreed with the Common Council to extend the 60 days to 66 days, because the hospital submitted the scoping document on March 16, because the Counsel did not receive it until March 22.
As far as WPCNR has been able to determine in discussions with Mike Graessle, Commissioner of Planning, the hospital contends the document was actually delivered 6 days previously, (March 16) with the Council not being able to assemble to receive the presentation until 5 days later -- March 22. Graessle indicated to WPCNR Tuesday that this dispute over what constitutes "date of delivery" could be a source of future legal contention.
The Common Councilperson Rita Malmud asked Kass, the Hospital attorney, if more time might be granted the city staff (Planning Department) to pull together the Scoping document past May 21, and Kass respectfully refused to grant more time.
Hospital deadline to show "progress" to retain Proton Accelerator hardware drives the May 21 deadline...
As reported previously by WPCNR, the May 21 deadline for the final Scope that determines the issues the Hospital must address in the DEIS, is critical.
The hospital is counting on the Scoping Document as showing "reasonable progress" towards possible approval of the proton accelerator, which the manufacturer of the proton accelerator requires by May 28 to extend their Letter of Intent with the hospital, according to Geoff Thompson, the Hospital Spokesman. Apparently adding 6 days to May 21 would bring the scope document to May 27, perhaps too close for the hospital to live with.
Malmud does not "trust" city departments, agonizes that city has not hired "environmental lawyer."
Councilperson Malmud at this point raised a new concern, saying
"Mr. Kass is an expert, skillful environmental lawyer. We (the Common Counsel) do not have the people, a specialized consultant to represent us.
We have called for a group of people to interview... I don't know what we (the council, and city departments) might be missing in their (the city's) scope...what procedural or analytical mistakes we might be making.
(Our staff) are not environmental lawyers. We need an appropriate one. I'm unwilling to see the scoping is closed in 10 days, so we can have expert advice from an experienced environmental lawyer."
Mr. Kass, the hospital counsel, attempted to respond to Ms. Malmud, but Mayor Delfino prevented Mr. Kass from responding to Malmud.
Mayor supports staff...
The Mayor said the administration had searched for an environmental lawyer the previous two weeks and that the Council could have had one present for the meeting if the counsel had approved one. He said Corporation Counsel Edward P. Dunphy was bringing in some potential lawyers for the Council to interview next week.
Mayor Delfino quietly expressed his opinion that the city's Environmental Officer, Rod Johnson, and Planning Commissioner Michael Graessle, had spent considerable years reviewing and assembling Scoping Documents and that Susan Habel "has seen a lot of scoping documents."
"I am confident my management and staff is competant enough (to assemble the Scoping Document)," the Mayor said.
(After the Council meeting ended, WPCNR asked Ms. Malmud and Councilman Larry Delgado if they had been presented lawyers specializing in the environment by the Mayor previous to the meeting. They said no. Corporation Counsel Edward Dunphy told WPCNR that four lawyers would be presented to the council towards the end of this week.)
Councilperson Robert Greer expressed his desire that the hearing be held open, if the second comment period after the May 7 continuation of the hearing were limited to less than 10 days, and the Council was allowed to do so. Dunphy said it was within the Council right to do so. Councilperson Boykin agreed he was of a mind to "adjourn to the next meeting, because of the large section of people who have not received the scoping document."
After these comments the vote to keep the hearing open was held.
In other Council action...
The Council approved an as-of-right height limit of 75 feet for buildings in the BR-2 district, striking 5 feet from the originally proposed new zoning. The action allows JPI to build their 300 Mamaroneck Avenue apartment and townhouse complex without applying for a Special Permit, streamlining the approval process. This proposal was strongly supported by Leon Silverman a prominent downtown landlord, and Mark Schuyler of the White Plains BID.
A previously outspoken critic of the project, Gary Gouldner, said he now supported the project, even though he questioned the Council giving up its right to limit heights of projects in the district on a project by project basis. In an aside, he wondered out loud about the consistent Council practice of adding items to the agenda the afternoon of the meeting in violation of the city charter which he said requires complete agendas filed by 9 AM, three days before any city council meeting.
The Common Council also voted to approve spending $19,000 out of the Community Development Fund budget to pay for "computer visualization" of the city's proposed zoning changes in the various neighborhoods in order that the Common Council could see what various building proposed footprints, building heights and setbacks, etc., actually looked like in proportion on lots and streets.
The Council voted to extend the contract of their lobbyist, Andrew S. Roffe, at a cost of $18,750, to seek and extension of the city sales tax of 1/2% with the state legislature. For the first time Mr. Roffe will also lobby on behalf of the City School District.
The Council learned from the Section 8 Program Agency that the waiting list at been paired to 240 from 1,100 last year, mainly from doing a letter mailing. A total of 325 decided not to participate, and many transferred out, and others were not heard from.
A grant of $10,725 was announced for the Youth Bureau, which in cooperation with the School District will provide a program for 9th and 10th graders with poor academic and social skills. The grant was obtained by Frank Williams the city Youth Bureau Director. It is a 7-week program in which the Bureau will help the youths deal with decision-making and anger management, while the school district will concentrate on academics.
The Art Attack Weekend was announced for June 2 and 3. Councilperson King suggested that parking garages be free as well as metered parking during this event.