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St. Mary’s becomes target of lawsuit from opponents

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A Bayside civic group is suing St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children on the grounds that its $114 million expansion would subject neighbors to excessive noise, truck traffic, dust and other forms of pollution, according to papers filed in Queens Supreme Court.

The project would move the Bayside hospital’s young patients into more modern quarters and cut down on their hospital stays.

But Dennis Ring, a spokesman for City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), said a judge ruled last week that the lawsuit would not halt St. Mary’s from moving forward with the project’s construction.

The suit also names the state Dormitory Authority and Department of Health as well as the city Department of Buildings.

Some of Bayside’s community leaders support the expansion while others oppose it, contending that the project would negatively affect the homes within a few hundred feet of the hospital.

But many of them said they did not know that the recently formed Weeks Woodlands Association would file a lawsuit against the hospital, which is at 29-01 216th St. in Bayside.

“We were not aware of the lawsuit,” said Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11. “They never consulted with us. St. Mary’s is building as-of-right, which means there’s nothing anyone can do about it. They are not increasing their beds, but just making it more comfortable for the kids.”

Iannece said a community advisory group was being set for a discussion between the hospital and residents of the neighborhood. One of the top complaints from neighbors of the property has been tractor trailers coming in and out of the site at all hours of the day.

But an Aug. 9 meeting between Edwin Simpser, executive vice president and chief medical officer of St. Mary’s, and community leaders was canceled at the last minute following the filing of Weeks Woodland’s suit.

On its website, the civic group questioned whether the hospital’s project should undergo further review since it had “not raised sufficient funds by the required construction date.”

The group’s president, Tim Vance, recently stepped down from his position, Iannece said.

But the civic could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, St. Mary’s Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Frerichs said the hospital had “closely adhered to the requirements set forth by the city and state.”

“We have worked diligently to keep the local community and elected officials informed of our plans to improve care for the region’s most vulnerable children and are deeply concerned that there are those who would seek to bring a suit that could delay this much-needed project when there is absolutely no sound legal basis for any kind of litigation,” he said. “The children of New York deserve better.”

Ring, Halloran’s spokesman, said the matter would return to court in September and that Halloran’s primary concern was that the surrounding community’s concerns were being addressed by the hospital.

“The councilman is concerned that if they do construction, it’s done the right way,” he said. “It’s a very residential area and there are homes surrounding the property. They have agreed to restrict work on the weekends. But since the litigation has started, St. Mary’s is being less communicat­ive.”

Andy Rothman, a Community Board 11 member, said he was upset with St. Mary’s after the hospital announced it would place four trailers along 28th Road at 217th Street this week.

“They have promised for 15 years not to bring trailers down this street,” he said. “It’s a residential area and this is going to create more parking and traffic.”

Last month St. Mary’s announced the expansion, which includes erecting a five-story building behind the existing one to provide better patient care. There will be no increase to its 97 beds.

The project will also increase the number of parking spaces at the site and create 420 temporary jobs.

The facility treats post-acute care children with special needs. It provides rehabilitation, medical care and education to youngsters with serious illness, severe injury and complications of premature births.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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