WPCNR Common Council Chronicle-Examiner. By John F. Bailey. June 6, 2002. 4:00 PM E.D.T. Benjamin Boykin, Common Council President, and Councilpersons Glen Hockley and Rita Malmud are demanding much more information on the nature of the biomedical research laboratories New York Presbyterian Hospital is planning for their White Plains campus. Ms. Malmud and Mr. Boykin made it clear they did not see why the research and proton accelerator facilities couldn’t be located on the oval within the historic district.
COUNCILPERSON RITA MALMUD CONSIDERS THE IMPOSING DRAFT FEIS, at Wednesday’s council work session. The document is 171 pages in length, with 10 Appendices.
All Photos by WPCNR
The councilpersons articulated their positions in the opening night of a work session with their environmental lawyer, Michael Gerard, to formulate their Lead Agency Response to the hospital proposal as part of the FEIS. The Council session on the FEIS continues this evening at 6:30 PM at City Hall. The FEIS is due for filing by June 17.
The session got underway at 7 PM, with the Mayor, Mr. Boykin, Mr. Hockley, Robert Greer, Ms. Malmud present and Councilman William King absent, and the city’s environmental consultant, Michael Gerard of Arnold & Porter on board to advise the council. An entourage of New York Presbyterian Hospital personalities, and Concerned Citizens for Open Space were also present After two hours of discussion, the council adjourned to Executive Session for an hour, emerging at 10:15 PM.
LEGAL PERSONALITY MICHAEL GERARD, well-known environmental law expert offered opinions on council strategies in considering the FEIS. His salient points made to the council were that approval of location of the new buildings on the hospital oval in the historic district depended on whether alternatives to placement on the oval (such as Sites 5 and 8) would not suffer severe impact from locating the facilities there instead of the oval.
At the outset, Mayor Joseph Delfino suggested they would take up the issues of Hospital use, the location of the proposed facilities on the oval, and the safety issue, which was agreeable to the council.
Boykin Troubled By Lack of Specifics on Nature of Research.
Benjamin Boykin, Jr., Common Council President, said the location of the project could not really be considered until it had been decided “this is an appropriate project for White Plains.” Boykin made it clear the hospital description of what was going on in the New York Presbyterian Hospital “system” (all of its campuses from Columbia to Cornell), did not answer the key question of what specific research was being targeted on the White Plains campus.
Gerard pointed out, “(the research) has to be related to this system. There has to be some kind of nexus between what’s going on there (in the hospital system), and the hospital in White Plains.”
BOYKIN CALLS FOR MORE SPECIFICS AND MOVING ALL CONSTRUCTION TO THE OVAL HISTORIC DISTRICT: Benjamin Boykin was deeply concerned about the nature of research going into the New York Presbyterian Hospital biomedical facility, as related to medical waste volume, as well as dangerous microbes.
Boykin responded to Gerard, by saying, that, in regard to echoing research done on other campuses “I’m not so sure it’s (research being done in the hospital system on other campus) an ancillary use.”
“I want to know who you are doing things with, and who you are going to do things with. The document points out clearly they don’t (know).”
Boykin, appearing to echo an argument used by Thomas Whyatt, the Concerned Citizens for Open Space attorney Monday evening at the Common Council, said that if the nature of the research was with an eye to profit, commercial research, with commercial partners, “then we’re not talking about a special permit, but a zoning change.”
Rita Malmud pointed out the council should consider citing the safety level of research which could be conducted on the site, eliminating dangerous virus research, for example.
Malmud agreed with Mr. Boykin on the sketchy description of the research: “It’s not clear to me it’s been established this (research) will not have commercial applications…So little, if any information has been given to us about who’s going into this space.”
Historic Sites Coordinator The Boss on Locating on the Historic District
Messrs. Boykin and Ms. Malmud expressed an interest about moving the facilities within the hospital oval, the sacrosanct “historic district” of the property.
The Council received a letter Wednesday evening sent to Roderick Johnson, the City’s Environmental Officer, from Julian Adams, the Senior Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, describing the process and possibility of locating the new buildings within the historic district.
The letter was prompted, said George Gretsas, the Mayor’s Executive Officer, by a request of the council to explore the possibilities of the State Historic Preservation agency of allowing the complex on the oval.
COUNCILMAN ROACH AND GERARD DEFER ON POSSIBILITIES OF UNDESIGNATING THE HISTORIC DISTRICT: Councilman Roach at right and Michael Gerard at head of counciltable on left, talk about feasibility of the state allowing construction on the oval.
The letter repeated its comments made on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, saying locating the new facilities within the historic district would have “significant adverse impacts on historic resources that would occur if the proposed project or its research component were to be located within the historic district….” And that, “its landscaping, the locations and scale of the buildings, their relationship to each other and the landscape would be irreparably altered and its overall historic character and value would be lessened.”
Possible Delay in State Funding?
More to the point, Mr. Adams, in effect, says that any building within the historic oval has to be approved by his agency, before any other agency can fund the biomedical and proton accelerator projects if they are sited within the historic district.
He writes, “It is important to note that consultation with our office under the State Historic Preservation Act is a requirement before state agencies can fund, license, or permit any undertakings that may impact historic resources. Our role in this process is more than simply offering a “finding”. The agency must show that consultation was successfully completed by way of either a letter or agreement document.”
The letter also states that “there would still be the obligation (by the city,hospital), to consider the historic resources in question under the provisions of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts on historic resources.”
Mr. Roach noted that the “mitigate” word would be an avenue where the buildings might be located on the historic district, saying that this ambiguity “created a hole big enough to drive a bus through.”
Gerard disagreed, saying, “I don’t think you can drive a bus through it. This statute (the State Historic Preservation Act) is stronger than SEQRA.”
Boykin Notes Square Footage could be fitted on the Historical Oval.
After Susan Habel noted the square footage available on sites within the oval, Councilman Boykin noted that the hospital could almost fit the square footage they require (384,000 square feet) onto three sites in the oval.
He wanted to know what steps the hospital has taken to resize the project to fit in the historic district. Boykin noted that, based on Habel’s information, 178,000 square feet could be fitted on Site 3, 102,000 on Site 4, and 82,000 on Site 5…just 20,000 square feet less than the proposed buildings, all could be fitted within the historical district.
Mr. Gerard explained it was not as easy as just fitting the buildings to the historic site. He noted that the city and hospital would have to make a case that locating the biomedical facility and proton accelerator on the alternate sites 5 & 8 was more adverse to the environment than locating them on the oval would be.
Rita Malmud feels pressured.
Ms. Malmud was asked by the Mayor for her comments on why siting the projects on Sites 5 & 8 was objectionable. Ms. Malmud said, “312 trees.” When the Mayor asked her to elaborate, she said she did not agree with the city staff findings in the FEIS, but wanted to reserve her comments for Executive Session, saying,
“I’d rather wait, because the hospital lawyers are here, hanging on every word, so they can use our words against us and sue us.”
The Mayor expressed sorrow, at that remark, saying, “Rita…Rita…”
Glen Hockley expressed the hope that all parties would sit down and talk this out.
Shortly thereafter Executive Session was begun and reporters were escorted from Mayor’s Office, though Mr. Hockley was inadvertently locked out of the Executive Session.
Mr. Gretsas said the legal rationale for the Executive Session was “attorney-client privilege.”