Bad blood: City Council approves project in rare break with custom

Pols back New York Blood Center on East Side over local member’s objection

City Council member Ben Kallos and 310 East 67th Street (Getty, Wikimedia)
City Council member Ben Kallos and 310 East 67th Street (Getty, Wikimedia)

It turns out blood runs thicker than member deference in the City Council.

In a rare move, the chamber negotiated and passed through committee a rezoning over opposition from the member whose district it is in.

Council leaders reached a deal Wednesday on the New York Blood Center proposal that reduces the height of the planned Upper East Side building to 218 feet, shaving off a little more than 100 feet. The project, at 310 East 67th Street, would serve as an expanded headquarters for the nonprofit as well as office and lab space for other life science companies.

Longfellow Real Estate Partners will develop it.

Opponents of the project, who won the support of City Council member Ben Kallos, say it would block natural light at nearby schools, parks and buildings. Ahead of the Council Land Use Committtee’s vote in favor of the proposal, Kallos criticized the developer for “skipping” working with the local community board and borough president and for failing to make concessions earlier in the process.

“We have had more conversations in the last 36 hours than we did in the preceding 36 months,” Kallos said ahead of the Land Use Committee’s vote. He said the Council’s decision will further embolden developers to “sidestep” community concerns and will overturn the chamber’s custom of member deference “now and forever.”

The City Council traditionally votes with the local member on land use decisions, and had done so every time throughout Corey Johnson’s eight years as speaker. Indeed, not since 2009, when it approved a mixed-use development in Dumbo over objections from then-Council member David Yassky, had the body ignored member deference on a major land use decision.

Bronx Council member Vanessa Gibson said Wednesday that she supports member deference, but emphasized the citywide significance of the Blood Center, citing its importance to her own constituents. She was not impressed with the reasons cited by opponents.

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“I need a little bit more than shadows over a park and construction noise,” she said. “I want substance. I want you to tell me how you can save the lives of my people who have been devastated by Covid-19.”

Kallos had some factors working against him. He is not especially popular among his colleagues and had said in June that he would ignore member deference after the Blood Center vote, perhaps not considering that it would not go his way.

“Once the Blood Center is done in my district I don’t have to honor member deference,” he said, according to City Limits. “I’d like to think I’m going to be voting against a lot of projects.” But Kallos now has only seven weeks left in office.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney and state Sen. Liz Krueger, Manhattan Democrats who have no formal say in the matter, had also opposed the project. In July, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended rejecting the proposal, but she joined Johnson’s statement in favor of the deal announced Wednesday.

“After years of discussion and weeks of challenging negotiations, we now have a project that … will build a new, world-class research space … helping to cement New York City as a hub of biomedical research,” the statement said.

The City Council also reached a deal to approve the Gowanus rezoning on Wednesday, paving the way for roughly 8,500 new apartments in the neighborhood. It is also voted in favor of a measure that will require certain construction labor providers to obtain licenses.

With agreements in place and committee motions passed for the Blood Center and Gowanus rezonings, both measures will be formally approved by the full Council later this month.