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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Plans Rejected by Community Board

By Amy Zimmer | March 15, 2012 5:30pm
Memorial Sloan-Kettering is planning to build an outpatient surgery at the corner of York Avenue and East 61st Street.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering is planning to build an outpatient surgery at the corner of York Avenue and East 61st Street.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was dealt a setback on Wednesday when Community Board 8 voted down its plans for a boxy, 172,000-square-foot building on the corner of York Avenue and East 61st Street.

Because the 261-foot-tall building is bulkier than the zoning allows, Sloan-Kettering needs a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals, and it had to appear before the community board in the first step of the public review process.

In the several hours-long sessions where hospital officials presented plans to the board, residents from 440 East 62nd St. — whose back windows would face the new hospital building — showed up in droves. They implored board members to vote against Sloan-Kettering’s request, describing how the new facility would plunge 57 homes into total darkness.

"There was sympathy for the residents at 440 E. 62nd St. and for what the building would do to their light and air," Community Board 8’s Chair Nicholas Viest said after the vote.

Twenty-five members of the board vetoed Sloan-Kettering’s plans, 14 supported it and one abstained.

"All we wanted was for [Sloan-Kettering] to sit down with us and discuss the impacts," the co-op’s lawyer Christopher Wright told DNAinfo.  "They didn’t sit down with us."

Hospital counsel Shelly Friedman explained to residents and the community board last month that for the 12 surgery rooms the center wants to create — along with prep and recovery rooms for a staff of 450 serving roughly 60 patients a day — it needed large floor plans.

He said there was no room for altering plans with a building that tapered off more narrowly at the top, as residents called for. It's current incarnation was the most effective and efficient building for providing the best care, he explained.

But Wright didn’t buy that argument.

"Any building has flexibility," he told DNAinfo, saying his clients still hope to meet with the hospital to discuss possible solutions before the March 27 BSA hearing.

"I’m hopeful this will be a clear message to the [Board of Standards and Appeals] that there is an issue and that they should take a good hard look at the application," Wright said.

Sloan-Kettering did not comment directly on whether it would make changes to its proposal.

"We appreciate the community board’s time and effort on this application and the support the application received from a sizable number community board members," a spokeswoman said. "We look forward to appearing before the BSA."

The building’s neighbors, who have collected more than 500 petition signatures against the project, were heartened by this first step and plan to continue their battle.

"This year was my year to retire, sell my apartment to go sailing around the islands,” resident Nicole Detko wrote on the petition. “I had a buyer, who justifiably is no longer interested, so what does one do? Sell at a loss [or] rent, but who would want to face a four-year construction ordeal? The only thing left to do is to stand up and fight."