New York, NY—The New York Blood Center wants to build a 334-tall tower in the midblock between 1st and 2nd Avenues on E 67th, which has prompted a strong reaction from the community. The Eastsiders for Responsible Zoning formed in response to the Blood Center’s proposal, and they argue that if the project proceeds as proposed it will weaken the integrity of the R8B zoning not just on the Upper East Side but in other R8B zones in the city.
R8B zoning currently limits building heights to 75 feet, with allowances for mechanicals up to 100 feet; it is a preservation zoning district that mimics the scale of the five-story walk-up tenements that dominate the midblocks.
According to Eastsiders for Responsible Zoning and other community groups, no R8B zoning district in the Upper East Side, since it was first established in the early 1980s, has ever been rezoned.
The Blood Center appeared before Community Board 8 Manhattan’s Zoning and Development Committee in March to say that it needs to redevelop its current site on E 67th Street into a modern, 21-century building (the current building dates back to the 1930s).
But the Blood Center can’t do it alone. That’s why is it enlisting the help of Longfellow Real Estate Partners, a Boston-based firm that has a portfolio of over 8 million square feet across the United States of leased space to startups and mature companies in the science and tech sectors.
The Blood Center’s proposal calls for a nearly 600,000-square foot commercial building, but it will only occupy about 35 percent of the building, roughly the first six floors of the tower. The remaining floors will be leased to Longfellow.
Bill Angelos is a co-op board member of 301 East 66th Street, and he formed Eastsiders for Responsible Zoning with his fellow board member Anthony Barrett. In a recent interview, Angelos noted that the current Blood Center facility is around 160,000 square foot. If it builds an as-of-right structure the Blood Center would gain around 230,000 square feet. But according to the Blood Center’s own proposal, it requires only 206,000 square feet to house its entire operations.
“If they build the facility as-of-right, it will be up to seven stories, which is 230,000 square feet, but what they are proposing to build is a high-rise building up to the equivalent of a 33-story building, and they admitted in their testimony in previous [Community Board 8] Zoning and Development committee meetings, as well is in the [December City Planning Commission] meeting that they are only proposing to utilize or occupy up to 206,000 square feet,” said Angelos.
“So, the Blood Center can build as-of-right up to 230,000 square feet, but they only need 206,000 square feet.”
Just as some other community members have emphasized, Angelos is not opposed to the Blood Center modernizing its facility, so long as they build the new structure as-of-right.
“So, the Blood Center can build a new building as an as-of-right and we the community will not have a problem with that. We will support the Blood Center, we truly support the Blood Center’s mission,” Angelos said.
But if the Blood Center really wants a structure greater than an as-of-right, there are currently three City-owned sites that apparently would accommodate its current and future operations.
A PowerPoint presentation created by the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts notes that in 2016 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the “LifeSci NYC initiative,” a 10-year, $500 million investment in the City’s commercial life sciences sector. In 2018, the City released a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for an Applied Life Sciences Hub, and the Blood Center’s plan appears to meet the minimum criteria.
The three City-owned sites are: 126th Street in East Harlem, adjacent to the NY Proton Center; Kips Bay, located within the East Side Medical Corridor; and a Department of Education Building in Long Island City.
But, apparently, the Blood Center didn’t respond to the RFEI.
Angelos said there’s no justification for the Blood Center to overlook the three sites.
“Instead, they’ve been insistent to build to upzone in the midblock in a residential neighborhood,” said Angelos.
He added that if the Blood Center gets the approval to build in the midblock a tall commercial tower, then what prevents other entities in the life sciences sector to do the same.
“What prevents Memorial Sloan-Kettering from building in the midblock, what prevents New York Presbyterian from doing the same,” Angelos said.
“It’s not necessary to violate the quality of life in the community. The purpose of the R8B zoning is to maintain the integrity and the characteristic of the community. I have lived in this neighborhood for over 25 years and I enjoy this neighborhood. If they want to build a high rise, they can build it on the avenue.”
At last month’s Community Board 8 Manhattan’s Zoning and Development Committee meeting, the Blood Center’s Land Use attorney Paul D. Selver of the firm Kramer Levin, noted that he and Blood Center representatives sent out invitations to meet with different stakeholders in the community, such as the co-op board of 301 E 66th Street, of which Angelos is the president.
There was a meeting with Angelos and fellow board member Anthony Barrett on Monday, October 26 at 9:00 AM where Selver and the Blood Center made a presentation for about an hour. After the presentation, Angelos and Barrett both expressed their concern about the scope, scale and lack of setback of the project, and most important of all, the rezoning of E 66th Street.
“They did not ask us for our consent whether they could rezone our block, we never consented,” said Angelos.
Then on November 17, Longfellow met with Community Board 8 and gave a presentation, and they were supposed to give a presentation to the full co-op board the first week of December, but, noted Angelos, the co-op board canceled it because they knew they would just be seeing the same presentation anyway, which wouldn't address any of their concerns.
“It's been over six months now and still the same presentation has been given at all public meetings. Our concerns have gone unaddressed,” said Angelos.
On Tuesday evening, Community Board 8's Zoning and Development Committee met to discuss the project and both the Blood Center, including Selver, and Longfellow were invited, but they did not attend.
Councilman Ben Kallos (D-5) attended Tuesday’s meeting, citing the concerns of the community and noting, as he did in a statement to the Eastsiders for Responsible Zoning two weeks ago, that the Blood Center does very important work and can expand without a massive rezoning.
“This is why we insist that the Longfellow proposal, which would make the building as tall as a 33-story residential tower, is excessive and if allowed to go through unchecked will change our neighborhood forever. Every East Sider who could be affected by this proposal should be showing up to every Community Board and Department of City Planning meeting on the project,” said Kallos.