The Real Deal New York

Approval of mammoth UES hospital project sparks neighborhood uproar

NIMBYs argue Memorial Sloan Kettering facility will strain area resources
By Guelda Voien | August 22, 2013 10:06AM

Upper East Side residents have so many real estate-related reasons to fume these days. If it’s not the waste transfer station, then it’s the rat army unleashed by the Second Avenue subway construction — to say nothing of the overcrowded trains that one tweeter described as “Mumbai with a Bronx attitude.”

Now, add to the list a proposed 750,000-square-foot hospital facility that won approval yesterday from the City Planning Commission for a “bulk variance,” allowing the behemoth proposal to go before a City Council vote, the final step before shovels are put in the ground.

The planned buildings would stand 450 and 340 feet tall along the FDR highway, and house an outpatient cancer center run by Memorial Sloan Kettering and medical school facilities for Hunter College, a division of the City University of New York.

While a price tag has not been floated for the 23-story complex, renderings on the Sloan-Kettering website show glassy cubes with tree-filled terraces along the East River.

But some residents say the neighborhood can’t handle the hulking buildings — and attendant traffic — and that other parts of the city need new medical facilities more than theirs.

“Hospitals are great, and there are a lot of communities that need new hospitals,” Andrew Moesel, head of Residents for Reasonable Development, a group of area residents opposed to the medical projects, told The Real Deal. “We don’t think this is the best place to put new hospitals.”

However, Memorial Sloan Kettering said it was only responding to the city’s 2011 request for proposals, which mandated a health care, educational or research facility be built on the block, at the FDR between East 73rd and East 74th streets.

The buildings require a variance that will allow the two institutions to rise considerably taller than the zoning currently allows — 60 feet according to City Planning’s website. At a commission hearing yesterday, City Planning unanimously approved the variance, with one abstention by a member who recused himself, a representative for Memorial Sloan Kettering said. A call to City Planning was not immediately returned.

But the approval only rankled the residents group, who vowed to bring legal action to stop the development.

The area “bears more than its fair share of the burden,” Moesel said. “York Avenue already has probably a dozen [hospitals],” he added.

To some, the planned project is akin to erecting a Rockefeller Center in the middle of their neighborhood.

“It’s the equivalent of trying to squeeze a fat lady into a too small girdle,” said resident Minna Greenstein, in a July release opposing the development.

While a representative for the hospital declined to respond to the residents’ accusations, she retorted that the facility would bring “the latest cancer treatments to thousands of New Yorkers.”

“We are pleased that the City Planning Commission overwhelmingly approved our application, building on Community Board 8’s approval in May,” the representative added via email.

While Residents for Reasonable Development would not specify what claims the group would pursue in court, Moesel pointed to possible impropriety with regard to the “sale of the land and the spot zoning.” No city records were available for the block, borough and lot number that correspond with the location of the site.

The duo – Sloan Kettering and CUNY – won the bid to build on the site in September 2012, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded the institutions the right to develop the space, currently a garage, at a press conference.

  • West Village residents whine because a hospital was closed, Upper East Side residents whine because a hospital wants to open. The only common factor here: rich people like to whine.

    • John Cena


      Where they are building is hardly a “rich” neighborhood. A lot of rental buildings with some high end condos. Ian, maybe you have never walked around this area (I doubt Bloomberg and Quinn have either unless at a perfectly calibrated press event) but you would be surprised to learn there are a lot of senior citizens who live on modest incomes. This area is called the UES but it really is Yorkville which has a much different demographic than those who live West of 3rd. This area is already clogged with congestion. There are a number of schools in the area and on a good day it’s hard to navigate. A bus ride up York Avenue can take an hour. Add a construction project to the mix, a 700,000 sq ft building and it will be a nightmare. Oh, and add 500 garbage trucks running up and down York Avenue 24 hours a day, 6 days a week and it will be a worse nightmare. I live in the neighborhood but I have never seen a traffic cop to help with the flow of traffic. At the very least, throw the neighborhood a bone and install traffic cops during rush hour.

      And yes, the West Village should have a hospital. We all know what Christine Quinn did for the WV on that issue.

      But Ian, thanks for simplifying everything down to a “rich person’s issue”. I am not rich and really don’t enjoy being boiled down to a stereotype.

      • Garbage trucks? Schools? CONSTRUCTION? All that noise, I can barely hear the world’s tiniest violin.

        There is a place for peace and quiet. They call it Ohio.

        And yes, I’ve walked those streets many times. Its a city. Get over yourself.

        • John Cena


          An obvious response from an insecure person. The article discussed the impact of the project on a neighborhood. Your initial comment was gratuitous (rich people whine) and I was pointing out factual reasons why that project might be the ill-conceived project for that neighborhood at this time without checks in place. Poor people whine, middle class people whine and rich people whine. I think most people are the most active when a project impacts their daily lives. How do you even know the people who were protesting are rich? Are you their banker?

          I welcome an informed response from you not just a name calling, this is a rich person problem response. But please, continue to make intelligent posts.

          • JG


          • Tommy C

            This guy must be crazy! Starting a fight with a pro wrestler like John Cena…..