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Bulky Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Plan Sickens Neighbors

By Amy Zimmer | January 23, 2012 7:52am
Lenny and Irina Dukhon, residents at 440 E. 62nd St., say that Memorial Sloan-Kettering's plans for a building next door would take away their sixth floor apartment's light and be detrimental to their health.
Lenny and Irina Dukhon, residents at 440 E. 62nd St., say that Memorial Sloan-Kettering's plans for a building next door would take away their sixth floor apartment's light and be detrimental to their health.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — A hulking, 261-foot-tall outpatient surgery center planned for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center would free up the hospital's main building for critical procedures by creating new space for less intensive surgeries, the hospital claims.

Other say it would cast neighboring homes into darkness.

Sloan-Kettering estimates the extension will help an estimated 60 patients a day. But residents in the co-op next door at 440 East 62nd St. are saying the boxy 172,000-square-foot facility would be so close to them it would block daylight.

The proposed building, at a former Potamkin Cadillac dealership, would be 75-feet shorter than what's allowable at the site under city rules. But it would be much bulkier.

The hospital says it needs larger floors, so it is applying for a zoning variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Its massive girth, however, would come so close to the neighboring building, it would plunge into darkness 57 of its 144 apartments, owner Howard Brumer said at a Community Board 8 meeting Wednesday.

He noted it was "ironic" he was complaining about the project considering he's scheduled to have surgery there in three weeks.

Residents fear the lack of light and air circulation, coupled with years of construction and increased traffic from the new facility, could damage their health and quality of life.

One woman said they'd be living "like troglodytes in a cave." A man said they'd be"in essence living in a glorified elevator shaft." Many worried about plummeting property values. They hired a lawyer to help their fight.

"The hospital is supposed to help make people feel better," Lenny Dukhon, 65, told DNAinfo. "What about our health? It will be like we're living in a basement on the sixth floor."

He and his wife, Irina, invested their life savings when they moved from Queens to 440 E. 62nd St. four years ago. The apartment, with its views of the 59th Street Bridge, had lifted their spirits after tough times — she's a breast cancer survivor, while he was minutes away from arriving at his 89th floor office in 1 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The hospital would be 40-feet from their window, blocking out most of their light. Other residents, with windows at the "lot line," would lose their windows entirely.

"I can't sleep. I can't work. I'm crying every night," Irina Dukhon, 63, said of the plans. "My blood pressure has gone up."

Sloan-Kettering's new facility would have 12 operating rooms equipped with the state-of-the-art equipment where patients, on average, would be able to go home after 20 hours rather than having to be admitted to the hospital, its lawyer Shelly Friedman said in a presentation at the Community Board 8 meeting.

"Surgeons trained in this facility will go throughout the world [sharing new techniques learned there]," Friedman said. "This is the building we need to build."

Hospital officials want the dozen surgery rooms consolidated on three large floors, rather than spread out over six narrower ones. It will save them money on equipment and staff and be much more efficient, officials said.

The larger floors will also help them meet new health code standards that require larger surgery rooms. 

The required size has nearly doubled to roughly 500 square feet per room, officials said.

Sloan-Kettering is not alone in expanding their outpatient services. Hospitals across the East Side, including the Hospital for Special Surgery, NYU Langone Medical Center and Lenox Hill Hospital, have big outpatient projects underway as they are gearing up for health care reform, which will require medical institutions to cuts costs and overnight stays.

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin told residents at CB8's meeting that she hoped the parties could "regroup."

"I do have some concerns about the height and bulk," she said.

Community Board 8  — which was scheduled to vote on the proposal — was divided on its support of the project. The board postponed its vote to allow for further debate.

"While we understand that the residents of 440 East 62nd Street are concerned over their loss of views and light, this would be the case with any as of right development, unrelated to our building requests," a Sloan-Kettering spokeswoman said.

She added that the hospital looked forward to "continued discussions" with the community board and residents.