Zoning ordinance aims to protect Bayonne Medical Center amid crisis

Hoboken and Jersey City introduced similar hospital district ordinances earlier in February

The Bayonne City Council has taken steps to maintain Bayonne Medical Center, the only hospital in the city, by introducing a zoning ordinance.

CarePoint Health has dissolved and has been liquidating its assets, including Bayonne Medical Center (BMC), Christ Hospital, and Hoboken University Medical (HUMC).

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In October of 2019, CarePoint Health and RWJBarnabas Health signed a letter of intent, whereby Christ Hospital and HUMC will become part of RWJBH.

In November, Avery Eisenreich, owner of Alaris Health, purchased the real estate of the Bayonne and Hoboken hospitals. Eisenreich also owns 25 percent of Christ Hospital.

But according to CarePoint officials, he is not interested in operating Bayonne Medical Center, nor in helping CarePoint Health in its negotiations to find a new operator. So while BMC has a new landlord, CarePoint is still searching for a strategic partner to operate the hospital and lease it from Eisenreich.

According to a lawsuit filed on Dec. 4 on behalf of CarePoint Health, Eisenreich has allegedly interfered with CarePoint’s negotiations to find a hospital operator for Bayonne Medical Center and instead allegedly intends to turn it into a nursing home.

So the city is taking zoning action to ensure the continuity of Bayonne Medical Center as a full-service hospital.

A new zoning ordinance introduced

The Bayonne City Council introduced the zoning ordinance at the Feb. 19 meeting at city hall. A public hearing on the measure should be at the next council meeting on March 18.

According to Law Director John Coffey, the new ordinance was created to better define the zone that Bayonne Medical Center is built on.

As written, the ordinance would adopt zoning that services the present hospital use for Bayonne hospital and maintains and supports future growth and development of medical facilities by creating a hospital district.

While Bayonne Medical Center, at 29 East 29th St., is already zoned as a hospital, parts of the land it sits on are not.

Coffey said that some areas of the hospital stand amid two separate zones. The parking garage across the street from Bayonne Medical Center on Avenue E is the primary area of concern.

The garage currently exists in both a residential zone and a commercial zone. According to the law director, the zoning ordinance would correct the zoning in the non-conforming areas.

According to Coffey, the City of Bayonne has a very limited amount of input in the current CarePoint negotiations that deal with Bayonne Medical Center. This ordinance aims to help the city establish some control over the situation.

“Mayor Davis is doing everything he can to insert Bayonne into the process,” Coffey said after the meeting.

The zoning ordinance also aims to better delineate what buildings could be constructed in the zone. Coffey said the ordinance was part of the “protective measures” being put in place that would ensure the continuity of healthcare services in the city.

The ordinance seems to effectively prevent any residential redevelopment from occurring at Bayonne Medical Center.

Three cities on the defensive

This move comes after Hoboken and Jersey City introduced similar ordinances earlier in the month, aimed at protecting the CarePoint hospitals in each of their cities from being redeveloped into residential buildings.

On Feb. 5, the Hoboken City Council introduced an emergency ordinance in the city’s zoning code that would establish a Hospital Zone where HUMC currently stands at 308 Willow Ave.

If adopted on second reading, this would mean the area could be used only for medical purposes and “secures the present hospital use, and maintains and supports future growth and development of the medical facility.”

According to the ordinance, the hospital, which opened in 1863, is a “critical part of the Hoboken community.”

As written, the C-4 Hospital District uses would include hospital and hospital-related facilities, including in-patient and out-patient services, medical and dental offices, as well as laboratories and diagnostic imaging.

Conditional uses, meaning uses that would have to be approved by variance, include senior citizen and assisted living facilities and rehabilitation facilities.

After the introductory ordinance passed unanimously on first reading, Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo said the zoning would help protect the hospital from becoming anything other than an acute care facility.

The following day, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said Jersey City too had protective zoning for Christ Hospital, and there was “zero chance” that zoning would change.

Christ Hospital, at 179 Palisade Ave., has views of the New York City skyline, which would make it a prime target for residential development.

“As the owners/buyers of Christ Hospital point fingers over the hospital’s future, one real issue of difference appears to be related to the land value underneath,” tweeted Mayor Fulop. “It’s on a cliff + w/amazing views of #NYC.”

Fulop continued, “To be clear: that land is zoned Medical Use Only today, and if the hospital closes, there is zero chance we entertain any changes to the existing zoning. Let’s take the dreams of big residential value for the property off the table [because] it is never going to happen there after a hospital closes.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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