Controversial Cancer Hospital-College Project Receives Community Approval

By Victoria Bekiempis on May 9, 2013 1:44pm 

 After many months of debate, Community Board 8 greenlighted City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's plan to build a 1-million-square-foot college/hospital complex on the Upper East Side.
After many months of debate, Community Board 8 greenlighted City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's plan to build a 1-million-square-foot college/hospital complex on the Upper East Side.
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CUNY-MSK

UPPER EAST SIDE — The proposed development of a controversial medical center and college complex came one step closer to reality after receiving community approval Wednesday night.

Community Board 8 gave the green light for zoning changes for the 1-million-square-foot project despite months of intense debate over open space and traffic concerns.

At an emotionally charged land use committee meeting on the City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering project — during which many MSK patients and cancer survivors came out with personal pleas for its approval — CB8 members ultimately voted in favor of the developers' request to build as big as they would like and to add more parking spots.

The board also supported CUNY-MSK's approach to addressing open space concerns — funding improvements at Andrew Haswell Green Park in exchange for these zoning changes.

The vote from the land use committee, which involves the entire board, is the final community hurdle for the developer. Like other CB8 actions, the decision reached Wednesday is non-binding, but will be weighed by city planners, who will have the final say on the proposals.

And, as with many task-force meetings on the issue, members of CB8 and public attendees who spoke were deeply divided.

Reiterating a long-standing concern that the projected environmental analysis didn't accurately portray the project's impact, neighborhood resident Mina Greenstein likened the CUNY-MSK partnership to fantasy.

"The artfully airbrushed building that the architect showed does not show the community. It's like when they got to Oz — the yellow brick road was glistening," she said. "We're not in Oz. We're not in Kansas. We're on York Avenue on 73rd and 74th streets.

"Remember what Dorothy and her friends saw when they got to Oz and they opened the curtain of the great wizard?" she continued. "They saw a snake oil salesman."

MSK backers, however, maintained that they needed such a dense building to keep up with demand for life-saving procedures such as bone-marrow transplants and research. Present and former patients also provided emphatic personal support to the project.

 Community Board 8 approved zoning changes for the hospital and college complex on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.
Community Board 8 approved zoning changes for the hospital and college complex on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.
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CUNY-MSK

Lauren Chiarello, who said she had a bone-marrow transplant at the hospital four years ago, underwent one of the clinical trials that often take place at the hospital.

"I firmly believe in the expansion of this program," Chiarello said. "I believe this facility is a critical component. If Memorial Sloan-Kettering's top-notch facilities weren't there, I'm not sure I'd be here today."

Some of the meeting's participants, however, said the heart-wrenching stories weren't enough to let the project go through.

"Although Memorial Sloan-Kettering has put this project, in theory, in this beautiful bow and is tugging on your heartstrings, the reality is those people are not living here," said area resident Helen Altman Brown. "Please don't sacrifice us for it."

Ultimately, however, CB8 seemed to side with the patients.

Patrick Dooley, who has received treatment at MSK and volunteers with children at the hospital, asked the board to consider the big picture.

"You're all familiar with the expression walk a mile in my shoes. I haven't walked a mile in your shoes, but you haven't taken 283 steps in my hospital slippers — which is the number of steps it takes to navigate from orthopedics to pediatrics [...] carrying your pole around," he said.

"Is it about noise and traffic or is it about something much broader than that?" he added. "The odds of me dying of my cancer [are] quite good, but shouldn't we look at this as a global solution?"

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