Montefiore maneuvers to avoid state review

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Montefiore Medical Center has altered its controversial plans for a new facility on Riverdale Avenue in a way that could circumvent a new review process by the state Department of Health (DOH), according to residents who met with hospital and development representatives last week.

The community members said Montefiore now plans to create a six-story structure encompassing about 77,000 total square feet. It would include a ground floor, three stories of parking and two stories dedicated to providing medical services.

The latest plan, which a Montefiore spokeswoman declined to confirm or deny, marks a significant reduction in the health care giant’s initial proposal to create an 11-story, 95,000-square-foot site on Riverdale Avenue near West 238th Street.

But Montefiore also claims its latest plan will avoid a new review process mandated by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein, according to residents who attended the July 9 meeting.

At the end of March, the lawmakers took the unprecedented step of targeting Montefiore’s unpopular plans with legislation requiring the DOH and other bodies to review proposals for ambulatory care centers over three stories tall or greater than 30,000 square feet. According to residents at last week’s meeting, Montefiore says since only two stories on the proposed Riverdale Avenue building will offer any services, the facility will be exempt from the law.

Mr. Dinowitz said he had no opinion on whether the plans — which Montefiore will present at a public Community Board (CB) 8 Land Use Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 22 — will be subject to a DOH review.

“I’m not the one to answer that,” he said in a phone interview. “The fact that Montefiore put forth a plan which very significantly reduces the size and capacity of the building… I believe is due mostly to the law that we passed.”

Mr. Klein also said he had no opinion on whether the review process will apply, adding that his office is evaluating Montefiore’s latest proposal.

“The community is the ultimate stakeholders,” he said. “They’re the ones who are going to make a decision.”

Residents who attended last week’s meeting decried Montefiore’s effort to avoid a DOH review.

“I think that that’s just totally ridiculous,” said Steven Benardo, a former school superintendent. “We believe they have to go before the [DOH] commissioner because it’s a six-story facility.”

Constantine Pantazis, whose father lives next door to the site of Montefiore’s proposed new facility, shared the skepticism.

“You can’t distinguish and say three floors are a garage; two floors are this. It’s one big facility,” he said. “It just seems to be a convoluted plan to try to confuse us.”

Still, Mr. Pantazis welcomed Montefiore’s move to relocate a driveway from Oxford Avenue, next to his father’s house, to Riverdale Avenue.

Kate Rose, Montefiore’s assistant vice president for public policy and government relations, confirmed she was at last week’s meeting, but declined to discuss details of the hospital’s latest plans.

Last month, she gave a presentation to the CB 8 Land Use Committee saying Montefiore would build a three-story center on Riverdale Avenue. There was no mention of a garage going below that facility.

At the time, Land Use Committee Chairman Charles Moerdler suggested representatives from Montefiore have a small meeting with community members in order to improve communications between both sides, which have been acrimonious to date.

Residents at last week’s meeting said Montefiore declined to provide details on how many patients and vehicles the new site would receive.

The Committee to Protect Riverdale, an informal group of residents opposed to Montefiore’s plans, sent out an e-mail urging people to come to the Land Use Committee Meeting next week. The message cited Montefiore officials as saying they would not submit new plans to the Department of Buildings until after that meeting.

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