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CUNY and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Plans Prompt Open Space Concerns

By DNAinfo Staff on October 12, 2012 9:43am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Plans to turn a former garbage truck garage into a medical center and nursing school have residents worried that the City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center  campus will be "bad neighbors" by sapping the neighborhood of already scant open space.

In September, the City announced that an ex-city sanitation garage on FDR Drive and 525 E. 73rd St. would be revamped into a state-of-the-art, 750,000 square-foot ambulatory cancer treatment facility.

As part of the $215 million deal — billed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as "one of the largest real estate transactions city government has ever been involved in" — CUNY's Hunter College will also construct a 336,000 square-foot Science and Health Professions center on the same site, bringing the school's nursing and general departments to the same campus. In addition, CUNY's Brookdale campus on East 25th Street, where these programs are currently housed, will be taken over by the city and used as a Department of Sanitation Garage.

However, residents are concerned that the CUNY-MSK project doesn't appear to provide public waterfront access, they said at a Community Board 8 meeting this week. They also expressed concern that the slated construction doesn't seem to address neighborhood congestion concerns.

"Great institutions don't have the right to be bad neighbors," said Community Board 8 member and Upper East Side resident Teri Slater, "I think Memorial Sloan-Kettering has a real responsibility to the community to give back."

Slater said that the private terraces — included in tentative building renderings — might give the facility's users a sense of space, but don't help the public breathe easier.

"That is a big concern in the neighborhood," she said, alluding to Community Board 8 Park's Committee's recent call on area institutions to provide open space.

Slater, who grew up in the neighborhood, added that she does not want the area to return to the days when it commonly referred as "Cancer Alley" — both on account of the many hospitals, as well as the pollution and traffic they brought to the area.

Barbara Rudder, CB8 Parks co-chair, echoed these concerns.

"We're just asking generally that institutions would provide open space," she said. "We're hoping that the partnership between these institutions and the community would benefit."

Shelly Friedman, a lawyer who discussed the project on behalf of it developers, countered that projects on such a scale can't always address these concerns simply by adding cut-away areas or plazas. Though the lot is some 68,000 square feet, almost all of it will have to be built on, he said.

"Institutions like Hunter College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering need large floorplans," he said. "It's in direct conflict with being able to provide the public with open space. The physical conditions preclude [this]" he said.

Friedman and other officials present — including Ennead Architects' Todd Schliemann and environmental analyst Anne Locke — said that the construction specifics are not entirely set in stone.

Open space and other quality-of-life concerns, they said, would be more extensively vetted at a Nov. 1 "scoping" meeting.

Many residents said that they believe Memorial Sloan-Kettering could clean up the waterfront recreational areas — especially the imperiled esplanade.

"I think you can have your cake and eat it too," said CB8 member Ed Hartzog. "Certainly Memorial Sloan-Kettering has the means. Why not provide the public access over the drive?"