Greentree sues the town, Northwell over decision on surgical pavilion

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A rendering of Northwell's proposed surgical pavilion for Manhasset. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Greentree Foundation has sued the Town of North Hempstead after the Board of Zoning Appeals found that Northwell Health’s proposed seven-floor surgical pavilion would not have a significant negative environmental impact and granted the hospital system structural variances.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 23, is an Article 78 proceeding, meaning it is seeking to overturn the Board of Zoning Appeals’ decisions on the $325 million project. Northwell Health is also named in the suit.

Greentree has objected to plans presented by Northwell Health for the pavilion, which would be visible from its Manhasset property, a green 409-acre space originally owned by the Whitney family. It is now used for workshops and retreats, including meetings of United Nations leaders.

The foundation property is next to Northwell’s North Shore University Hospital, the site which the surgical pavilion would join.

The Board of Zoning Appeals variances that Greentree is challenging were approved Dec. 28. They allow for the pavilion to be closer to Community Drive and Northwell’s property line than town zoning law would typically permit, non-employee parking spaces to be slightly smaller than standard, the parking area to have an additional level and no surrounding landscaping because it would be connected to another building, and overall 673 fewer parking spaces than required.

In its Dec. 28 decision, the board also concluded that the structure “will not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts” based on an assessment conducted by an outside party in 2017.

The Greentree lawsuit calls the Board of Zoning Appeals’ actions “arbitrary and capricious.”

The board violated State Environmental Quality Review Act procedure, it says, which requires parties to identify all relevant areas of concern, thoroughly analyze each area and elaborate on its final decision in writing with proper supporting documentation.

The board also violated Town of North Hempstead law in its determination that the need for a particular variance was “moot,” the lawsuit says. To do so legally, it would have needed to make an appeal to the town’s building department, Greentree contends.

The variance deemed “moot” involved the maximum height allowed for buildings.

In another violation, the Board of Zoning Appeals “improperly considered information submitted after the [July 18] public hearing without affording the public an opportunity to rebut or comment on the information,” the lawsuit says.

Several of the documents submitted after the hearing that the lawsuit cites were letters and emails from Northwell.

“Considering our good-faith efforts to address local concerns, it is disappointing to learn of Greentree’s legal challenge to this essential health investment for the community, especially since the project has already adhered to so many important local and state governmental requirements,” said Northwell Health spokesman Jason Molinet.

Both the town and Greentree Foundation declined to comment on the issue, saying they could not comment on pending litigation.

The surgical pavilion project would be very near the border of Greentree’s property, but trees and vegetation would create a buffer, said Derek Anderson, North Shore University Hospital’s associate executive director of hospital operations, in July.

Repeated concerns in the lawsuit include the project’s impact on the aesthetics of the Greentree property and its groundwater. The estate has four vernal ponds with wildlife such as spotted salamanders and wood frogs as well as forestry with “a significant population of wood thrush, migratory and non-migratory birds,” the lawsuit says.

Northwell’s plans for the surgical pavilion include 15 operating rooms, 44 intensive care unit beds and two floors allowing for the addition of more of those beds in the future.

There is a town hearing on the Northwell pavilion tentatively scheduled for Feb. 28.

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