Elected Officials and Community Members Voice Their Opposition Against the Blood Center Rezoning

Last week, the City Planning Commission held a Public Hearing on the rezoning of the New York Blood Center site. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Council Member Ben Kallos, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer were among the many community members that spoke against the 334 foot commercial tower. On their public testimonies, delivered both in person and virtually, elected officials, community groups, and Upper East Side residents expressed their strong opposition to the size and scale of the proposed tower. You can watch the recording of the meeting here. Below are some highlights from the speakers.

“Just looking through their filings, [the Blood Center is] an institution that brings around $500 million dollars a year. They sell the blood that people donate to them, and they make around $250 million dollars a year on that - that’s a lot of blood money. They say they are a research institution, but as of the 2019 tax filing they spent $14 million dollars out of their half a billion dollar budget, which comes out to less than 5% of their program services expenses. This isn’t a research institution, this a real estate institution. This is a group that sells blood... We can’t use zoning to print money… Rezoning so that someone can put a 334 foot commercial tower, it’s just not how zoning is supposed to work.”

- Council Member Ben Kallos

“I strongly oppose this modification of the R8B contextual zoning proposed by the New York Blood Center to allow for the consideration of a 334 foot midblock commercial tower... What is most unusual to me about this project is that everybody agrees, I haven't met one person that supports a change in the entire zoning laws, setting an absolutely outrageous precedent to build as high as you want, to whatever financial gain you can make, when there's no direct benefit to the community... It's highly unusual to have every single elected official, every single not-for-profit, every single organization that is concerned about the zoning and future of the City of New York, and preserving the City of New York, preserving light and air and quality of life, all of whom are adamantly opposed to it... I'm particularly concerned that the rezoning actions necessary for this project would inappropriately increase density and traffic in a neighborhood that is already one of the most densely populated in the entire city. The proposed zoning change would allow for out-of-context midblock highrises, reducing light and quality of life... I am on my knees begging you, our Department of City Planning, to listen to the thousands of people who live here, to the thousands of students who come in and out to learn here, to the thousands of tourists who want to come here and see a livable city... the entire city of New York cannot be wrong, we should listen to them.”

- Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney

“What the Blood Center and Longfellow Real Estate Partners are asking for is a subsidy. The improvements to the Blood Center’s own operations can be accomplished under the existing zoning, an R8B district... The human cost of this additional commercial space will be borne by the surrounding community. The size of the proposed building is far too large... I worry about the precedent this would set for midblock zoning. The intention of R8B zoning was to maintain a residential character for the Upper East Side. The lower-scale buildings allowed under this zoning provide for light and air and contrast with the more densely developed avenues. There has never been a rezoning at this scale on an R8B-zoned midblock, and if passed, this could serve as a proof of concept for further midblock rezonings for commercial use.”

- Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer

“While the community will bear the burden of this egregiously tall building, it will not benefit the community. Nor will it directly benefit the Blood Center, which will still have the same footprint as now. It will primarily, if not solely, be for the benefit a private developer. Even so, it would be a poor example of planning at a time when so many existing commercial buildings are vacant and begging for tenants.
This application, if approved, would diminish what makes our neighborhoods livable, it would dismantle decades of consistent land use policy and practice by this Commission, and it would send the message – which, make no mistake, will be heard loud and clear – that it is open season on contextual residential midblocks not just on the UES, but all across the five boroughs.”

- Ronda Wist, FRIENDS Board of Directors

“This proposal remains completely unchanged from the first time it was presented to CB8 last November... The Blood Center and Longfellow have not changed the project one iota in response [to significant CB8 concerns]. That in itself is shocking and indicative of the disregard for community concerns and quality of life that characterize this proposal.”

- Russell Squire, Chair of Community Board 8

"The Blood Center has failed over 35 years since R8B was implemented to plan for its future and its future space needs. Their failure should not be rewarded by this Commission... The simple number of proposed zoning changes, special permits, and text amendments required for this project should be a clue that this project is not appropriate for this location and does not represent good urban planning."

- Elizabeth Rose, neighbor

"The City has consistently indicated it considers this use and bulk as appropriate for M zones, high-density C zones, wide streets and institutional campuses. It does not belong on this or any residential neighborhood... It is particularly perplexing that the city would agree to develop commercial lab space in an R8B district when it faces a pandemic induced crisis of commercial office vacancies just blocks away. This strikes us as irrational, if not illegal."

- Karen Meara, Carter Ledyard & Milburn

"This proposal is an example of bad planning; there are better alternatives. The Blood Center could modernize its facility, build huge floor plates, and vastly increase its size, by obtaining waivers for yard and coverage requirements, allowing the building to stay within the R8B envelope. This is a reasonable compromise between community interests and the needs of the Blood Center."

- George Janes, George M. Janes & Associates

Whether you were able to attend or not, your written testimony is vitally important. FRIENDS created a form to streamline the submission of written testimony. While we highly encourage you to submit your own personalized testimony in opposition to this project at CPC's website, you can also use our form and we commit to upload each submission to the City Planning Commission by August 9th.

Additionally, we encourage you to state your position against this proposal at Council Member Ben Kallos' petition here. Your support is crucial in this battle against Longfellow's 334 foot tall commercial building. You can learn more about the proposal and how to help here.