By Anessa V. Cohen
There is always worse. And worse is what I am terrified we are facing as more information and details comes down the pike about the type of medical facility Simone and the WestMed group plans to build at the site of the former Number Six School, if given the chance.
If this project is allowed to go forward, it will be the biggest fiasco to ever face this community and will be nothing short of the end of the quality of life in the Five Towns—Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hewlett, Lawrence, Inwood, and Atlantic Beach—as we know it. The bucolic family life we live here, where our children play freely outside our homes and streets, where we sit out front enjoying the company of our neighbors, where we bike to the park and to town, simply hop into the car for the short ride to North Woodmere Park to swim, play tennis, or picnic in the spring and summer, or to enjoy our beautiful beaches and beach clubs over the bridge at Atlantic Beach, Long Beach, and Lido Beach on those long summer days, will never be the same.
The additional hundreds of cars clogging Peninsula Boulevard, Branch Boulevard, and Rockaway Turnpike, and even 878, from the proposed new medical facility will make those short hops into a torturously long, drawn out Long Island Expressway-type traffic grid. Bicycle rides to and from the park and throughout the Five Towns might have to be reconsidered due to the high volume of new car, van, and ambulette traffic not only using the main thoroughfares, but driving through self-made detours all around the Five Towns looking to avoid the new traffic gridlocks created by the incoming and outgoing activities generated from that center.
With all the new traffic coming and going, we might also have to deal with lots of incoming patients utilizing the public transportation systems, such as the LIRR and the LI Bus systems and then walking from those various locations through previously quiet streets to access the medical facility. This new phenomenon will mean getting used to the idea of having a constant flow of strangers meandering down our streets from the various bus and train stops as they make their way to this proposed new medical center. How safe does anyone think having to deal with these hundreds of strangers on a daily basis will be for a community so small that most of us know our residents by face if not by name?
Once Simone is allowed to purchase the Number Six School property, and those who stayed silent and did not go out and vote down this sale realize that this will not be a high-skilled operation for the local area but rather a staging ground for receiving patients from anywhere and everywhere as long as they, by hook or by crook, can get here, it will be too late. Our neighborhood will have lost its tranquility and there will be nothing anyone can do about it but live with the changes and the misery inflicted by this new reality.
Some would ask, “How bad could it be? A medical facility that would bring top-of-the-line doctors and care to our neighborhood instead of our having to travel to the city every time we need a specialist should be something to look on favorably—no?” I must applaud Simone’s media specialists together with their legal counsel for presenting this Shangri-La so as make people feel relaxed when in fact it is all smoke and mirrors as to what they are truly planning to build here.
I attended a Town Hall meeting that Simone hosted this past week. The meeting started with an emcee giving his presentation of the wondrous things that this medical facility would do for the community, and then he passed the baton to a group of presenters, each with their own specialty of hearts and flowers. Some of the so-called amazing things that the Simone representatives offered during their presentation began to sound very troublesome to me—so many holes wherever I looked that I began to feel as if I was attending a Jon Lovitz comedy routine. Except there was nothing to laugh about.
Taking many notes so I could ask for clarification when the question and answer period began, I waited as each of the presenters finished. I will not take up everyone’s time by going through all the points they laid out that made me wrinkle my nose, gaze with shock, and literally left me speechless at their audacity of the extent to which they stretched the realms of reality. But I will offer some examples that I think are vital to everyone in the Five Towns to know.
First off, a traffic specialist presented her traffic projections of how she claimed traffic would be affected by the new medical facility. After an extensive slideshow of charts and graphs—which really presented traffic without Simone and left the projected additional traffic flow numbers broken down into numbers small enough to be missed if one did not ask where they were—she spoke of a probability of an additional 40 cars—sort of—in each hour.
My question to her at this stage was, “When did you produce this study?” and she said she had done the study within the last few weeks. I asked her, “What kind of real traffic study is this then, if it does not include numbers of cars from Peninsula Boulevard to 878, Branch Boulevard, and Rockaway Turnpike in the spring and summer when people are traveling to North Woodmere Park and to the beaches?” She had no answer for this other than to say she could get an estimate from averages in other areas of the state and possibly use them accordingly. Obviously this has nothing to do with the price of oranges and a real number could never be reached using this type of formulation. Using a formula for a traffic study in the dead of winter when traffic is at its lightest and choosing to ignore the traffic at the height of the spring and summer cannot under any circumstances give a true picture of what a traffic gridlock we will face if the medical facility is allowed to go through—and open two entrances, one on Peninsula Boulevard between Branch Boulevard and Church Avenue and another on Branch Boulevard right after the turnoff from Peninsula Boulevard. Just imagining the kind of accidents that will happen there regularly is mindboggling.
Another important question that was asked of Simone was how would they protect the flow of traffic on a federal emergency evacuation route—which is what Peninsula Boulevard is. To see the faces turning to look at each other back and forth, I am not sure they even realized that Peninsula Boulevard was a federal emergency evacuation route. It sure seemed like news to them!
One interesting point came out after a question was asked regarding the number of employees that would be employed at the medical center besides the doctors. A representative from Simone stated emphatically that there would be very few employees at the medical center, with actually just 1½ assistants per physician, with everything else being automated by computer from a different location. This being the case, no one can figure out where the new employment that they advertise will happen! Another example of 1+1 not equaling 2, with no explanations!
One of the other items that Simone seems to keep pointing to is the similarity of the Number Six School location to the facility they have in Rye. Now why we would seem comparable to a facility off a New York State Thruway exit with the Hutchinson River Parkway nearby on its other side, in an area of Westchester County that boasts of many corporate parks, is delusional. Who compares locations off parkways to a one-family residential area?
Talking of dilemmas, one of the biggest ones that I have is who at Simone keeps changing the site plan. I have seen so many different site plans in the last few weeks that I have to look at each one and see what is missing from the one they presented before that edition. One has walkways feeding out to Ibsen and Church Avenues. Then a new one has no walkways but now has pretty little bushes in place of the walkways. (Little bushes are a great way for the public to create shortcuts!) At this town meeting, they announced they will have a playground (you need to imagine it since it was not entered into the more recent site plan) on the Church Avenue side. You could ask deeper questions such as, “Where will the entrance to this playground be—on Church Avenue? In the parking lot? Or if neither, where will the access point be? If the entrance is in fact on Church Avenue, since this is where they state the playground will be, won’t that create a walkway for patients looking for a shortcut who choose to park on Ibsen and Church and to then cut through the playground in order to get to the medical building?”
I am not sure, but my guess is at the next town meeting that Simone has we will be seeing an even newer version of the site plan—although I am not sure what it will show us.
The bottom line is that when you have a project that requires so much smoke and mirrors and constant revisions which still do not solve any of the major problems, the value of this project becomes a devalue—which is what it will do to our community if everyone does not come out on March 20 and vote “No” to this medical facility. I am sure there are plenty of projects out there which will bring us the money we need without ruining our neighborhood, and we just have to put the property back on the market and try and get one! The emperor has been marching through town bragging about his new clothes. Let’s tell him the truth! He has no clothes!
We need everyone to get out there and vote “No” to the sale of the property to Simone Group. If you cannot be there, please visit www.lawrence.org and request your absentee ballot. Anyone having difficulty and needing an absentee ballot can e-mail me and I will send them the PDF application. We need to stand as one to get this done and we need everyone to make this work by getting out the vote. Please make sure to talk to your neighbors and friends, and remember to vote “No” March 20. v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.