WPCNR Common Council Chronicle. By John F. Bailey. August 6, 2003: Twenty-seven White Plains neighborhood activists and eleven New York Presbyterian Hospital supporters took five hours Monday evening to deliver in passionate, eloquent, and poignant voices their opposition and support respectively, for the New York Presbyterian Hospital biotech/proton accelerator proposal subsequently approved by the Common Council at officially 2:32 A.M. Tuesday morning.
THE HOUSE AT 1:30 A.M.: Diehard Council watchers observing William King’s 50-minute attempt to persuade Council colleagues to turn down the New York Presbyterian Hospital project.
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For perhaps the last time, the “Park Crusaders” who have worked for “A Central Park for White Plains” for almost a quarter of a century stalked doggedly and spiritedly to the podium delivering both eloquence and innuendo, at times pleading, at times cajoling, other times scolding the council for backing off their campaign promises.
They included Alan Teck, Barbara Benjamin, Don Wilson, Claire Eisenstadt, and were joined by concerned neighbors from the Gedney Association, Bryant Circle, neighborhoods directly affected by the hospital project. The ranks were swelled as the evening moved past midnight by persons watching on television, then coming to City Hall to speak.
The supporters included a handful of professionals employed on the White Plains New York Presbyterian Hospital campus, and some notable White Plains personalities, including former Councilman Hal Masbach, Carl Barrera, Tim Sheehan, and former Mayor Michael Keating. A last minute mailing from New York Presbyterian Hospital which arrived only Monday in White Plains mailboxes failed to bring more “in-person” support for the hospital to City Hall.
The Council meeting attracted 45 persons at its start, and had dwindled to a diehard 25 by the time the final vote was taken.
Supporters Advocate the Medical Future.
Behavorial specialists from New York Presbyterian Hospital began the reopening of the marathon public hearing in its seventh month. Dr. John Docherty, leading off for the hospital, commented how the close proximity of researchers at the proposed biomedical research facility would result in “knowledge transfer,” between doctors and researchers, a key component of progress in mental health treatment, saying “The White Plains campus is a very unique opportunity to bring these communities (treatment specialists and researchers) together.” He said treatment of depression in the elderly would be one of the hospital missions that would be facilitated by the biomedical facility.
Gail Ryder of the hospital, said, “This is a great evening. This is the next generation of health care. Thank you for reading what I know has been reams of material. This (proposed facility) is the future pace and future direction for wellness.”
Hal Masbach, of the Downtown Business Improvement District, a former Councilman, said, “It’s mind-boggling that the city fathers could consider not adding this facility (to White Plains). I’ve heard all the objections. There’s not one of these objections that’s either untrue or dealt with (in the resolution to approve).”
FORMER MAYOR ENDORSES PROJECT: Michael Keating, Mayor of White Plains for a portion of 1974 and all of 1975, addressed the Common Council, recalling the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s history of treating the mentally ill. He recalled when the hospital applied for and received approval for the Bloomingdale’s project in the mid-70s. He described that as a period of time when the hospital “had lost their way,” but now, he feels that the present project shows that they have “found their way” and that he encouraged the Council to approve the resolution.
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Opposition centers on Zoning Change, Ancillary Use Turning into Primary Use.
After an initial sequence of supporters, the long familiar line of those opposed to the project weighed-in, one after another.
One gentleman likened the hospital proposal on the table to an orchestrated, calculated plot leading off with the worst proposal first, (locating two buildings on Bryant Avenue), then strategically withdrawing to the Site 8, 6-story one building proposal the council was voting on.
This gentleman reported that former White Plains resident Joseph Clark was the mysterious reporter of the toxic dump site on the campus. Mr. Clark’s identity has been long shielded by Concerned Citizens for Open Space, which has refused to reveal their source for this charge they have made throughout the current review process.
WHYATT FOR THE DEFENSE: Thomas Whyatt urging defeat of the hospital proposal on zoning, ancillary use violation, and failure to produce a detailed master plan Monday evening.
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Whyatt: Proposal Violates Zoning, Ancillary Use Definition.
Concerned Citizens for Open Space Attorney, Thomas Whyatt, constructed the legal argument that the size of the project, with over 900 employees expected, dwarfs the number of employees now on the campus, saying this made the project far from ancillary (defined as “subordinate”), thus violating the city’s Special Permit conditions. Whyatt, in addition maintained that the project violated the R-1-12.5 residential zoning, and called the project an industrial park. He said the Council was in its resolution, its controls on the project were being left to future councils.
He said, “I don’t think this is legal.” He called for the Council to reject and ask the hospital to come back with a request for a zoning change, prepared to discuss land. “It should be on the table,” he said. Marc Pollitzer of the North Street Civic Association echoed Whyatt’s arguments saying the project violated zoning.
Doris Simon called on the council to “stop this monstrous project,” calling it “an environmental crime.”
Rosemarie Hicks, a research technician, criticized the hospital description of their proposed research facility as “a fantasy,” saying, “they’re throwing out numbers that do not make sense in an every day laboratory facility.”
Benjamin cites wide anti-project sentiment.
Barbara Benjamin said she had been inundated with telephone calls over the weekend from persons opposed to the project after reading the Journal News story that the council was going to approve the project. But, to anyone following the council maneuverings in recent weeks, it has become apparent the Council was spelling out conditions under which it was going to approve this project. Public Access Channel 71 White Plains Week commentators James Benerofe and John Bailey have been predicting this approval on the air for a month, and they said so again on last Friday evening’s show.
Benjamin said she had heard from a vast and diverse number of citizens, who, she said, ended their conversations with the same words, “I’ll never trust anyone on the Common Council again.”
Benjamin said she also resented the hospital’s alleged attitude that those opposing the project were indifferent to the pain and suffering of cancer victims, remarking her own husband had died of the disease. This criticism was echoed by several other speakers, one of whom had trouble holding on to her emotions, fighting back tears.
CAMPAIGN PROMISES QUOTED TO THE COUNCIL: Resident Claire Eisenstadt, quoting from the White Plains Watch, reads the campaign promises and quotes of several councilpersons, in which the councilpersons promised they would not support development of the hospital in any way, and would work for a park. Eisenstadt said, “We voters will not forget this project on the next election day.”
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READING OF THE NO ROLL: Eva Stern commanded 15 minutes of hearing time by reading 434 names of persons opposed to the project from a CCOS advertisement that appeared in the White Plains Watch. Stern began her “roll call” saying, “I’m very disappointed in you. I think you’re making a terrible mistake. I hope you have the guts to say No to this project.”
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Wilson, founder of CCOS calls for a new dialogue.
Don Wilson, speaking early in the evening called on the council to deny the resolution, ask the hospital to come back, asking for rezoning. He urged, “using the rezoning process to permit an industrial park on the (medical) oval only, and work with the New York Historical Preservation” to preserve elements of the hospital’s Millennium Preservation Plan to make part of the open space a city park.
VOICE OF REASON: Donald Wilson, CCOS founder, who helped stop the infamous “City Within a City” project in 1984, called for the council to reject the proposal. Later in the evening, Councilman Benjamin Boykin was to call for the hospital to discuss land appropriations to the city after the council had approved the project.
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Others speaking strongly against the project were Robert Wall, Amy Barish, Brian Henderson, Louis Trippett, and Betsy Desoye. Desoye particularly drew Mayor Delfino’s ire by bringing up Robert Greer’s disclosure of his wife’s employment at the hospital. Desoiye was of the opinion Greer should have recused himself from the impending vote. Mayor Delfino stated the Corporation Counsel, Edward Dunphy had absolved Greer of any conflict of interest, and that the Ethics Board had declined to take up the issue.
GRILLING GREER: Betsy DeSoye made Robert Greer uncomfortable challenging the ethics of the Councilman for not recusing himself from the vote. The Mayor dismissed her charges as already having been dealt with.
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After Carl Barrera, the 38th speaker of the evening, ended the comments at 12:30 AM Tuesday morning, supporting the project, the Mayor introduced Michael Gerrard, the city legal environmental attorney who assisted in preparation of the environmental review and the Findings Statement. Gerrard said that comments from the public received up until July 29 did not introduce any new matters impacting the Findings Statement. With that the Mayor asked the council to close the hearing after seven months, and it was ready for the Council to be heard.
INTERMISSION: SCHMOOZING IN THE ROTUNDA: During one of three breaks in the seven hour and 45 minute meeting, White Plains movers and shaker schmooze, speculate and rumorize in the famous City Hall rotunda.
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