WPCNR Common Council Chronicle-Examiner. By John F. Bailey. August 7, 2003: The Common Council 6-1 decision early Tuesday morning approved development of a six story biomedical research and proton accelerator cancer treatment center to be built on an interior site on New York Presbyterian Hospital below Bloomingdale’s. Councilpersons each had their reasons for approving the project that they eloquently expressed.
Gavel to Gavel video tape converage of this historic decision can be seen this evening beginning at 5 PM on Government Access Channel 72 within White Plains city limits.
MY GOAL IS TO CHANGE THE MIND OF THE COUNCIL said Councilman William King as he began his public commentary just prior to Tuesday morning’s historic vote. The Common Council listens to Councilman William King, (far right), surrounded by books, charts, index cards and a dictionary, as the Councilman attempted to persuade three of his colleagues to turn down the NYPH project. A 5-vote majority was needed because the site is environmentally sensitive. Note Council Chamber Official Clock is not correct.
Photo by WPCNR
Council Continues to Hold the Reins.
The stunning decision enables the city to retain control over the scope and nature of hospital development. At the same time, its environmental findings provide the hospital a definition of what development the city will accept and how it will accept it on other sites on the property.
This was how Common Council President, Benjamin Boykin described and analyzed the impact of the Council’s historic vote to reporters after the vote was taken.
Shocker in the Night.
The resolution approving the project was approved by voice vote after Councilman William King spoke for fifty minutes from 12:42 A.M. to 1:32 A.M., attempting to change the minds of Glen Hockley, Tom Roach, Robert Greer, Rita Malmud and Mr. Boykin on the resolution
After the longest-running, tumultuous and emotional public hearings in recent memory was closed at 12:30 A.M. Tuesday morning, Mayor Joseph Delfino invited the members of the Common Council to express their positions on the issue.
THE KING FILIBUSTER: William King, praised at various times by opponents of the project for his opposition to the plan, who this weekend revealed to The Journal News the voting intentions of his colleagues, attempted to change his colleagues’ minds.
Photo by WPCNR
King discoursed for 50 minutes, saying “My goal is to change the mind of the council,” citing four reasons:
1.)the resolution violated the single family zoning now permitted on the site.
2.) The New York Presbyterian Hospital Master Plan calls for more biotech structures.
3.) It conflicts with zoning.
4.) Site 8 is the least desirable site (in his opinion).
King said the hospital “did not really consider” as a site, the land he suggested, a “Site 9” located behind the Memorial Methodist Church off Bryant Avenue. He elaborated at length on the feasibility, in his opinion, of this site, pointing out that it could be entered through St. Agnes Hospital, and St. Agnes could also supply parking.
King is All Over It.
The dissenting Councilman said approving the project as proposed, disregarded the element of housing he said would be needed on the property to house what he described as “low paid” research workers.
He criticized the architecture of the proposed six-story building on Site 8, that would house the biotech structure and proton accelerator, saying it did not “mesh” well with the historic architecture on the hospital oval.
He attacked the conclusion of the resolution that the usage would be “ancillary,” questioned the safety of the proton accelerator, using the thickness of the concrete walls as evidence that it was unsafe, and expressed doubts the proton accelerator would ever be built due to New York State budget problems.
He also read specific sections of the zoning code which, in his opinion, the resolution violated. He maintained the city Master Plan adopted in 1997, characterized the hospital property as “quasi public” and drew from that the resolution before the council violated this spirit.
Reads letters from public.
King read extensively from letters of comment sent in by citizens against the project. He warned that approving the resolution, the council was approving “de facto” acceptance of the hospital master plan for the entire site, which he felt was operating in an “arbitrary and capricious manner.”
Moratorium called for. Westchester County Planning Board Renders No Opinion to Date.
He concluded by calling for a moratorium on New York Presbyterian Hospital development , suggesting a land swap with the hospital be arranged with Westchester County or New York State, and that he would like to hear from the Westchester County Planning Board about what they think of the project.
Though sent documents detailing the hospital proposal and resolution, the Westchester County Planning Board has not commented as of Monday evening on whether they approved or disapprove of the project, according to Mr. King.
“I’d like to say slow down, let’s not be herded to a judgment,” King said in his last remark at 1:32 A.M. The 25 or sow remaining in the audience gave him a round of applause.
HOCKLEY’S WALK-ABOUTS TELL HIM MR. AND MRS. WHITE PLAINS ARE NOT AGAINST THE PROJECT: Councilman Glen Hockley said in less than five minutes that he felt the council had considered the project and built in safeguards. He said that in his weekly “Walk-Abouts” in which he walks the neighborhoods of the city, discussing city issues with residents, he has found the most citizens are not against the project, even are “mostly for” the project.
Photo by WPCNR
Glen Hockley discussed his position next, saying he felt the council had reviewed the project, built in safe guards within the resolution, and he would vote to approve it.
Mr. Hockley had been called out of the Council meeting at 10:30 PM, being informed of an emergency involving his wife, which he and his wife wished not to discuss. Mrs. Hockley told WPCNR she was fine after the council meeting had ended. Mr. Hockley, exercising his “sunchin” (focus) after learning his wife was safe, returned to his post on the council and completed the historic evening under strain. WPCNR has learned from a reliable source the matter had nothing to do with the resolution under discussion.
COUNCILMAN GREER DEFUSES ANCILLARY USE ISSUE: Councilman Robert Greer said he was “torn between great beauty” in considering the issue. He said Michael Gerrard, the city environmental lawyer had advised the council “that an ancillary use could be both ancillary and major at the same time.”
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Mr. Greer lauded the resolution for its retaining “control” of the project. He said the Council built safeguards into the resolution, retaining the right to approve or deny Biotech Level 3 research to the hospital, prohibiting Levels 4 & 5, and that safety procedures permit Level 3 research in Manhattan, a much more crowded place than White Plains.
City Hospital Leaders Rebuffed by Resolution Guidelines.
The Council’s retention of right of approval of what the hospital does, rejects concerns of leaders of White Plains Hospital, Burk Hospital and St. Agnes Hospital expressed in the last three weeks to the Common Council, that the council was interjecting itself in the management and mission of hospitals.
Expects a Dialogue. Wants to Develop Master Plan with the Hospital, Address Zoning on All City Hospital Property.
Councilman Greer said the resolution begged the question that the city had to look at all hospital zoning in the city:
“Our major concerns have been dealt with in the resolution. We’re not thinking if this is approved, if it happens, it is an opportunity for the city to work with the (New York Presbyterian) Hospital to update their Master Plan, developing a clear understanding of what the hospital is planning on doing,” Greer said. “It’s time for us to go ahead with this project.”
Greer added that the city would also expect to address zoning ordinances governing all hospital properties in the city.
ROACH REFUSES TO LITIGATE TO MAKE A POINT: Responding to Lewis Trippett’s advice “not to be afraid of lawyers,” Tom Roach said that the easiest thing for him to do politically would be to say “No” to the project.
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Councilman Thomas Roach, stepped to the plate next, and expressed that, he being new to the issue, “The cards had already been dealt and I was forced to deal with the hand before me, and I’ve done the best I can with that.”
Roach said one thing was certain, “We don’t own it (the NYPH property), and they’re entitled to make use of this property in conformance with our land-use laws.”
Roach commented on his attitude towards litigation, and the threat of being sued if the city should turn down the resolution for the hospital facility: “I have no fear of litigation, but I don’t take to litigation to make a point. A large majority makes a point. Another group of people not coming to the meeting, they elect you and you’re going to make a reasonable finding.”
He characterized that the hospital and the city are “essentially on a war-footing. The easy thing for me is to just say “No.” Because they are under the law they have the legal right to proceed with this project.”
MALMUD SAYS RESOLUTION RETAINS CONTROL ON HOSPITAL PROJECT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Councilperson Rita Malmud says the Findings Resolution protects the residents of the city.
Photo by WPCNR
Councilwoman Rita Malmud noted that she has long opposed development on the hospital property and had been in the lead for years on preserving open space. She said the resolution up for approval improved the hospital’s proposal because it had teeth in it, stipulating,
1.)There would be no commercial activity of any kind on the property.
2.) The project the hospital is considering is not a commercial venture.
3.) The biotech/proton accelerator building has been moved to an interior site.
4.) Bryant Avenue is closed to all hospital traffic, except for emergencies.
5.) The number of trees removed has been reduced.
6.) Safety Officers with backup officers will be on duty at all times in the labs.
7.) The nature of research will be subject to Common Council Approval (Level 3 has to be approved, Levels 4 & 5 prohibited).
Malmud Expects Issue of Hospital Land to be Discussed.
Ms. Malmud noted that no tree-cutting should take place “until all permits are in place.” Then she added a hope:
“The broader issue of hospital land use should be discussed in the very near future. We need to re-evaluate. This Council’s work should not end tonight.”
COUNCIL PRESIDENT BOYKIN CALLS FOR A NEW DIRECTION IN CASTING FIFTH VOTE PUTS RESOLUTION IN A NEW PERSPECTIVE: In his remarks at approximately 2:10 A.M. Tuesday morning, Councilman Boykin said why he was voting to approve the project, he also called for discussions on land for a park.
Photo by WPCNR
Councilman Benjamin Boykin, casting the fifth and decisive vote, passing the project, and giving the New York Presbyterian Hospital approval for the project, eloquently stated the hospital’s opportunity to develop a new relationship with the city, saying,
“The discussion over this project has sparked much passion from various individuals and organizations. The range of discussion has gone from absolutely no development on this property to those who say that this is private property and the applicant has the right to develop it. It has been, and it will continue to be, my attempt to find some middle ground where everyone has given something up, but in return, everyone benefits because we have more than we started with.”
Saying “No” to the project would be the easy political choice:
“Some individuals have advocated that we just say no – reject the project and move on. Do not allow any development on this property. The hospital, under its current R1-12.5 zoning, can build about 490 single-family houses on their property. They could, in theory, start this development tomorrow. The status quo is therefore residential development.”
SEQRA Review prohibits massive development of property in future. Kills Hospital Master Plan.
Boykin said the environmental review of the hospital project set standards indicating what the city feels can be built on the hospital, and informs the hospital what they can propose in the future:
“…the right of private property ownership carries with it the public responsibility to be considerate of your neighbor and sensitive to the environment. In the environmental process for this application, the Council has built a public record that will prevent massive development of this property. Therefore, most of the conceptual master plan information presented early in this process will never happen. We must make sure through legislation and the forming of new relationships with the hospital, that community concerns are considered and addressed for this property.”
Boykin: Council decides use is ancillary. Mechanism in place to collect taxes if appropriate.
The Council President said, “While there is no definition of ancillary use, this council has wrestled with this issue and decided that the proposed medical use is ancillary. In addition, any medical research done at the White Plains Campus of NYPH must be connected with the hospital activities at this location. There will not be any labs for the production of items for distribution. Commercial activity on this site is strictly prohibited…We have placed language in the Environmental Findings Statement to allow the Assessor to collect the appropriate information to make the tax status determination.”
City assures residents their water rates will not go up with this project.
Boykin went on record as saying, “this project will not increase water rates for our residents,” and that Con Edison “has stated they can handle the increased electrical burden with the current or reconstructed substations.”
Boykin asserts city could lose control of its fate, if city goes to court.
In response to the suggestion that the city vote No and confront hospital attorneys in court in an Article 78 action, Boykin put the matter into consideration:
“I am concerned that if we deny this application, the city may lose control of our special permit and zoning rights and the courts will determine the fate of this project. This would be the worse of all situations for the residents of White Plains. I believe the project to Site 8, the closing of the Bryant Avenue Entrance and imposing detailed conditions for hospital related uses, the impact on our neighborhoods and the City of White Plains have been mitigated. Therefore I will vote to approve the Environmental Findings Statement and the Site Plan Approval for the Applicant.”
The time when Boykin finished speaking was 2:23 A.M. You could have heard a pin drop. It was all over. The hospital had its 5-1 majority.
Councilman Boykin wasn’t finished, he called for a new beginning:
“It is time for a new beginning with the hospital. I ask the hospital to immediately meet with us to address pressing community concerns. I look forward to working with the hospital to provide the residents of White Plains with public access to the beautiful property for passive as well as leisure and active recreational uses.”
Hospital officials, appearing stunned, and not quite knowing how to react to what appeared to be an unexpected victory in the opinion of those observing them, refused to comment on that statement after the meeting, other than issuing a preprinted statement, thanking the council for their approval.
MAYOR CALLS FOR A CENTRAL PARK: In his address to the Council Mayor Joseph Delfino remarked on the 25 years of hospital/city conflict, and called for finding a way to achieve finally a “Central Park for White Plains.”
Photo by WPCNR
The Mayor, his sixth vote no longer an issue, placed a benediction on the historic evening, as fitting and uplifting in this reporter’s opinion as Calvary Baptist Church’s Reverend Lester Cousins’ rousing singing of a psalm to open the Council meeting seven hours before:
The Mayor remarked on how the council had reached the evening’s predicament, chiding opposition forces for rejecting Plan A, that would have provided 60 acres of free park land, and Plan B, calling for massive development of buildings on the property two years and 19 days before.
He was not satisfied with the proposal before him: “What we have here is Plan B. It has a number of great benefits…it’s about saving the lives of our citizens.”
Mayor Says Cancer Facility is Needed Citing Deaths from the Disease.
The Mayor mentioned 50,000 persons died in 2001 of cancer, 1,500 persons a day, and 16 million persons had died of cancer since 1990, 100 million persons in the last century. The Mayor put the cost of caring for cancer victims at $157 billion in just the year 2001.
Dunphy Da Man.
The Mayor said “We really didn’t have much choice (in approving the proposal).” He praised his Corporation Counsel, Edward Dunphy, whom he described as “absolutely right on the money,” on all the legal issues, chiding the Council for rejecting referral of Plans A & B on July 17, 2000: “They heard the messenger (Dunphy) but they did not like the music.”
Kudos for the Department Heads
He thanked the city department heads, Executive Officer George Gretsas, Michael Gerrard, the Arnold & Porter environmental consultant, and Susan Habel, Commissioner of Planning, whom he described as “going above and beyond to protect the city’s interests.” Ms. Habel and her Deputy Commissioner wrote the massive, 70-page Environmental Findings Statement.
Now that the Approval is Granted, A Central Park Can Be Discussed: Delfino
The Mayor said the city and the hospital now could discuss land issues (formerly prohibited by the city’s settlement of the hospital’s lawsuit in January, 2001), and secure a “Central Park” for White Plains.
With that the Mayor asked to move the resolution, a roll call vote was taken, and the Center of Advanced Proton Therapeutics and Biotech Lab was approved by a 6-1 vote. The time was 2:32 A.M.
The UnCommon Council meeting adjourned at 2:40 A.M.