Blood Center Approval: Political Pressures Prevail Over Common Sense

Today the New York City Council voted 43-5 to approve the modified Blood Center/Longfellow tower over the extensive and persistent opposition to the plan by the community and Council Member Ben Kallos. The protest filed by neighbors triggering a supermajority to pass the project was rendered moot due to the final vote count. Standing with Council Member Kallos in his principled NO vote were Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Bob Holden, Kalman Yeger, and Ruben Diaz, Sr.

This is the first time since 2009 that the Council tradition of “member deference” has been broken, signaling a direct assault on community participation in local development issues, and weakening Council Members’ ability to negotiate on behalf of their communities. Council Members justified their favorable votes by mentioning the notable research work and role in the city’s blood supply by the New York Blood Center.

It is unfortunate that political pressures prevailed over the common sense facts of the project. This was never about the ability of the Blood Center to continue its work. It was about the dangerous precedent of granting a radical rezoning of a typical residential block to a for-profit developer, using a neighborhood nonprofit as a Trojan horse.

FRIENDS is proud to have played a leading role in building a diverse and savvy coalition of neighborhood residents, community groups, and local stakeholders in opposition to this project. Throughout the last year, we advanced the conversation in significant ways: with research showing the profound consistency of the UES’ R8B midblocks, proving the ability of new development to exist within contextual zoning, highlighting the gaps in the applicant’s life science arguments, and by proposing actionable and reasonable alternatives to this bad plan.

Though we believe a better outcome serving the needs of the Blood Center and the community was possible, final modifications to the project included a height reduction of 100 feet, to a total height of 233’. Any reduction in space in the modified plan came at the expense of the Blood Center; Longfellow’s portion of the building remains largely unchanged. The $450 million in city subsidies directed to Longfellow only underscores the real entity behind this project. The City and the Blood Center have also committed over $10 million to St. Catherine’s Park, and $2 million to the Julia Richman Educational Complex. Collectively, these changes demonstrate the importance of community involvement, and would not have been possible without your support. In the last few days alone, over 41,000 individual emails were sent to Council Members using FRIENDS’ automated tool.

While we reconvene and study next steps, FRIENDS deeply thanks every community member that stood with us, every local elected official that continuously opposed this project, most importantly Council Member Ben Kallos, who withstood against immense political pressure and voted with his constituents.