Approval of mammoth UES hospital project sparks neighborhood uproar

NIMBYs argue Memorial Sloan Kettering facility will strain area resources

A rendering of a planned health care complex on the Upper East Side
A rendering of a planned health care complex on the Upper East Side

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.

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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.