FOR RELEASE: September 23, 2021
CONTACT: Rachel Levy, FRIENDS Executive Director
212-535-2526 / firstname.lastname@example.org
City Planning Commission Approves Unprecedented Blood Center/Longfellow Tower Project Universally Opposed by East Side Elected Officials and Community Groups
On Wednesday, September 22, 2021 the New York City Planning Commission voted 8-2 to approve the rezoning application by the New York Blood Center, despite significant and unified opposition from local politicians, civic groups, and residents. The proposal would dramatically change midblock zoning to allow the Blood Center not only to demolish and replace its three-story headquarters at 310 East 67th Street, but also to erect a huge commercial tower above. That tower would be owned and controlled by Longfellow, a for-profit life sciences developer. The introduction of nearly 400,000 square feet of commercial space in a building envelope 334 feet high (versus current midblock height limits of 75-feet) with tower floorplates comparable to midtown office buildings would be unprecedented in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
This radical rezoning application violates every sound planning principle established and followed by the City Planning Commission for the last 30 years, particularly the familiar urban pattern of narrow side streets valued for their human scale residential character with taller, denser buildings directed toward wide streets and avenues. If ultimately approved, the project would violate “R8B” contextual zoning for the first time since the low-rise zoning was enacted on the Upper East Side over 35 years ago. Like contextual districts mapped throughout the city, this special zoning recognized the consistent character of the neighborhood’s side streets and the importance of preserving that low-rise character as a respite from bustling avenues. Dismantling it will send a signal that mid-blocks are for sale citywide.
In terms of height, bulk, use, and location, the Blood Center/Longfellow tower is unprecedented in nearly every way. It has no parallel, even among other life science projects in New York City. The size of its footprint rivals the Empire State Building, and it will loom over low-rise neighbors including a branch of the New York Public Library, the six-schools in the Julia Richman Educational Complex serving 2,000 students from all five boroughs, and St. Catherine’s Park, the only dedicated green space within a half mile. The projected daily increase of over 2,400 people to this already congested block will also have a significant impact.
The project has been vocally denounced by Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers who represent the area, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. Earlier in the review process, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended disapproval, and the project was unanimously rejected by Community Board 8. Local civic opposition has been led by FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and the Coalition to Stop the Blood Center Tower, a partnership of neighborhood groups and residents advocating about the impacts of the current plan. The project next advances to public review at the City Council, where traditionally the Council follows the lead of the local members.
“This egregious project is a prime example of developer overreach - in this case the Blood Center attempting to trade air rights it does not actually own to a private developer, at the expense of the surrounding community and public realm. There is no demonstrated reason to disrupt the carefully calibrated land use policy in effect for three decades on a textbook low-rise Upper East Side block, especially when the Blood Center could build a brand new facility with 10% more space for its own use in an as-of-right building that fits in with existing neighborhood context.” said Rachel Levy, Executive Director of FRIENDS of the Upper East Side, and an organizer of the Coalition to Stop the Blood Center Tower.
“The applicant has presented a false choice. There is no need to destroy the low-rise character of the midblocks in this already very dense residential neighborhood or trample sound planning principles to ensure that the Blood Center is able to continue its important work. The FEIS assumed that even without a rezoning the Blood Center could and would build itself a new, larger facility in the same location. Nor is there any reason to build 400,000 gsf of commercial space on this residential block, particularly when the City is facing a crisis of excess commercial office space. Life science developers could and in fact have been converting commercial and manufacturing properties to commercial lab space in non-residential neighborhoods on Park Avenue South, Hudson Square, Long Island City and beyond. As we enter the next phase of ULURP, FRIENDS urges the Council to reject the applicant’s false choice and do what it always does – balance Citywide goals with the sound land use policies that make and keep New York’s residential neighborhoods livable,” commented Karen Meara, attorney with Carter Ledyard & Millburn LLP, representing FRIENDS.
“Elected officials and the community are overwhelmingly opposed to this project for a myriad of reasons. The developers are overstepping what should be allowed here - and letting this rezoning go through would set a horrendous precedent. This vote by the City Planning Commission is beyond disappointing because the light and air of school children are being traded for pure profit at the expense of an entire neighborhood. I continue to denounce this project and stand against the shameless greed the Blood Center is demonstrating. I am certain the community will continue to stand together in opposition, and you can bet your bottom dollar I will be voting 'No' on this project as it is proposed,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.
“East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association is extremely disappointed by today's decision of the City Planning Commission to support the private business interests of an out-of-town commercial real estate developer over the CPC's long-standing land use principles, the unanimous advice of CB8, the Manhattan Borough President, all of the Upper East Side's elected officials, and the children of JREC and their families who hail from 50 of 51 New York City council districts. We are heartened that the CPC vote was not unanimous and that two Commissioners understood that there are many existing and viable alternatives for the Blood Center, in our neighborhood and elsewhere in the City, to continue its important and valuable work without upending existing zoning law and placing a city-wide educational complex and a park in permanent shade. We are undaunted and will continue to fight Longfellow and its high paid lobbyists and we are optimistic that the City Council will stand with Councilmember Ben Kallos and our community in opposition to this 334 foot tall just-for-profit commercial real estate project in the middle of a residential block,” said Valerie Mason, President of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, and member of the Coalition to Stop the Blood Center Tower.