Will Diaz back home’s expansion?


Daniel Reingold won’t give up.

Community Board 8 may have said no to Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s expansion plans for its Palisade Avenue campus, but that’s not stopping the assisted living facility’s chief executive from forging ahead through the city’s approval process anyway.

Reingold brought his case before borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office last week — only Diaz himself wasn’t there. The borough president generally doesn’t attend such hearings, according to communications director John DeSio, and instead typically meets with involved parties individually. 

In his stead was deputy borough president Marricka Scott-McFadden, along with planning and development director James Rausse and lead planner Jessica Cruz.

Residents, some of them hunched over walkers, shuffled in to the wood-paneled, high-ceilinged Bronx County Courthouse room, sinking into soft seats under chandeliers.

“It’s been a very long process, many years,” Rausse said, after the hearing. Diaz has “helped initiate some conversations between the different groups. A lot was played out at the community board, and it didn’t reach the compromise we had hoped prior to our hearing.

“As an institution, the borough president supports the Hebrew Home, but really understands the concerns of the community, because these are serious adjustments to zoning resolution and to the Special Natural Area District.”

Despite CB8’s vehement “no” vote, Reingold’s staying the course in what he’s described as an existential struggle for his organization’s very survival as a nonprofit entity. Building what would be the city’s first continuing care retirement community, Reingold said, could offer salvation.

Fifteen years ago, Reingold noted, more than 40 nonprofit nursing homes operated in Bronx County. Today, that number is down to three, as most have been converted to for-profit enterprises.

“The challenges facing nonprofit nursing homes are complicated and significant,” Reingold said. “Suffice to say that it is impossible to run a nonprofit nursing home.”

And for the most part, seniors don’t want to be in a nursing home, Reingold said. They’d much rather live in the kind of “housing with services” a CCRC offers — independent living, medical services locked in, where they can move between levels of care as needed.

While Hebrew Home submitted its original plans of a 12-story building on the northern parcel, and two smaller buildings of six and four stories on the southern plot to Diaz’s staff for the hearing, Rausse said, it’s still working toward a compromise with some neighbors surrounding its campus.

That compromise could be a lot like the one believed to have been brokered ahead of last month’s CB8 meeting through the efforts of Councilman Andrew Cohen and CB8 land use chair Charles Moerdler. Hebrew Home conceded, at the time, to reduce the height of its main tower to nine stories, and its two smaller buildings by a story each.

While a deal is still being ironed out, Hebrew Home spokesman Michael Woloz said, the involved parties are “very close” to an accord.

Although CB8 rejected the olive branch, Woloz stressed some board members professed a veritable desire to move forward.

“I think there are a lot of people that were working in good faith to try to reach a compromise that was fair for all parties,” Woloz said. “Sometimes it doesn’t evolve as quickly as you would like it to before every meeting and before every stop along the way.”

Still, the endgame is more important than any speed bumps, Woloz said. “Really, the important part is that the compromise gets reached.”

At least one senior care advocate — and even some residents — would probably like to see such a consensus sooner rather than later.

“For today’s older people, a move into a senior living community isn’t always about the medical necessity,” said Allison Nickerson, executive director of LiveOn NY, an advocacy, policy and services organization for the elderly. “It’s about lifestyle.”

But the resistance also spoke up.

“I picked Riverdale to make a home because from Skyview, I can see the Hudson,” said Skyview-on-the-Hudson resident Bill Vitka, who’s lived in Riverdale since 1989. “I see green. I see trees. What I fear I will also see will not be the river but the Hebrew Home, crushing the beauty of the waterfront.”

Vitka worries about more than just his view, however.

“I fear it will overtax the community,” Vitka said, “drain valuable resources — fire, water, police, traffic congestion.”

He also dreads a potential “domino effect.”

“One tall building will lead to a second, to a third, to a fourth,” Vitka said. “And a fifth might lead to a Trump Tower. A Franken-co-op. A monster that opens the door to a dark future of glass, steel, mechanical cranes and faceless buildings.”

But if some residents have implored the borough president to quash Reingold’s plans, others remain fixed on finding middle ground. Sherida Paulsen, chair of the Riverdale Nature Preservancy, is on the vanguard of those efforts.

After meeting with Hebrew Home representatives, Paulsen said, “we are pleased to express support for possible changes to the plan.”

In addition to reducing buildings’ heights, those would include a significant increase in trees along Palisade Avenue and opening preservation space through an “iron-clad” restrictive declaration. But it also would include the formation of two advisory committees — one for the initial design and construction period, which would be a community-wide group, and a post-construction committee for neighbors to deal with noise, parking complaints or any other issues that could arise.

Paulsen urged Diaz to hold off on issuing a recommendation until a memorandum documenting potential changes had been finalized and signed. The borough president has until July 26 to submit his opinion, after which city planning will vote on the request before it heads to city council.

Promisingly for both sides, Rausse said, is Hebrew Home’s declared continued commitment to talk with residents allowing the process to continue “moving in a positive direction.” 

Diaz, he added, “wants to vote with the compromise.”