UPPER EAST SIDE — Co-op residents whose apartments would be plunged into darkness by a bulky, 261-foot-tall outpatient surgery facility for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have asked the hospital to re-design the building it is planning for the corner of York Avenue and East 61st Street.
Instead of the boxy 172,000-square-foot building planned to rise directly behind 440 East 62nd St. — blocking some apartment windows entirely and boxing in others whose courtyard-facing windows will be 47 feet away — the residents asked them to consider a structure that would have a tower on an 85-foot-tall base to allow for more light and air.
But after a flurry of meetings between the groups, Sloan-Kettering officials said at a Community Board 8 meeting Wednesday night that they would not be able to meet the co-op's demands.
The center's 12 surgery rooms need large floor plans and would have to be in the wide part of the building's base, which would then force recovery rooms to be located above — something the hospital can't do, the hospital's counsel Shelly Friedman explained. It's better to have the recovery rooms as close to the ground floor as possible in case anyone needs to go to the main hospital a few blocks away.
A mock-up of a building that incorporated some of the residents' suggestions would need to be 25 percent bigger than the building Sloan Kettering wants to build, Friedman claimed. Both would require a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
"This is not a building we can build," Friedman said. "We believe it violates the basic safety issues of a hospital. It's not in the patient's best interest. It's more expensive. It's taller. It's bigger."
Only the existing plans for the facility, which would have a staff of 450 serving 60 patients a day, will help Sloan-Kettering "continue its cancer treatment as well as its academic programs," Friedman said.
But the co-op's lawyer Christopher Wright didn't buy the hospital's argument, asking them to submit proof that the alternative building couldn't move forward.
"It is virtually impossible to confirm, deny or question when they say this building won't work," Wright said.
He said he didn't believe that the hospital's plans were inflexible, noting how it already made some tweaks, for instance, downgrading from 54 to 46 patient beds.
"We've spent millions of dollars preparing this building," Friedman said of the existing proposal. "Of course our engineers feel this is the most efficient building."
Friedman noted that the hospital wanted the ambulatory center close to its main campus rather than at the former Cabrini Medical Center, a site at Second Avenue and East 19th Street, it bought two years ago, intending to build such a facility. Sloan-Kettering wants to free up the hospital's main building for critical procedures by creating new space for less intensive surgeries.
"We studied the alternatives and building a building like that so far away from the main hospital was not practical," Friedman said.
Community Board 8 decided to put off its vote on the hospital's variance request until next month, asking the two parties to continue hashing it out before Sloan Kettering goes to the BSA.
"I think we all empathize with our neighbors," board member Sarah Chu said. "At the same time, Sloan Kettering is our neighbor, too, and a world-class institution. We may need to go there one day."
She added: "I would support giving Sloan-Kettering the opportunity to demonstrate why this building is the safest and best for their patients."