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Giant New Medical Center Is Like 'Morbidly Obese Man' On Plane, Foes Say

By DNAinfo Staff on February 13, 2013 6:36pm  | Updated on February 13, 2013 11:36pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — Outraged neighbors say plans for a new medical center and nursing school on the Upper East Side will be just as uncomfortable for the community as sitting next to "a morbidly obese man" on a long plane ride.

At a recent public discussion of the City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center campus, which is set to rise in a former garbage truck garage at the FDR Drive and East 73rd Street, residents were irate over the project's community impact.

George Alexiades, who lives on East 72nd Street, complained that the complex would choke a neighborhood that already has minimal breathing room.

"Who would you rather sit next to on an economy seat on a flight to Japan — a 5-foot-5 morbidly obese man, or a 6-foot-5, 170-pound guy?" he said. "That's how we feel in this community about living next to a building this size."

In September, the city approved the CUNY-MSK plan to build a state-of-the-art, 750,000-square-foot ambulatory cancer treatment facility at the site of the former garage. CUNY's Hunter College will also construct a 336,000-square-foot Science and Health Professions center on the same site as part of the $215 million deal, taking the college's nursing and general departments to the same campus. 

But residents have raised quality-of-life concerns, claiming that CUNY and MSK are being "bad neighbors" to an area they think is already overrun with hospitals.

Ed Hartzog, a Community Board 8 member and City Council candidate, reiterated safety concerns, saying construction would worsen traffic.

"It's Armageddon," Hartzog said. "It's 'Thunderdome.' I can't tell you how many times I have seen ambulances in total gridlock on 72nd Street."

Another resident grumbled that the plans amounted to "pie-in-the-sky" thinking.

Todd Schleimann, who presented new renderings of the project at the meeting, said his firm, Ennead Architects, was working to address many of these concerns.

The complex features set-back facades to provide a widened sidewalk, he said. And large, broad stairs in the CUNY building will help get students off the sidewalk and into the building to prevent congestion, he said.

"We've begun to fracture the massing into smaller components," he said.  "We've also tried to give it an identity which would speak about its institutional character."

Shelly Friedman, a lawyer who's representing the project's developers, added that CUNY and MSK would consider giving the Department of Parks and Recreation money to revamp the nearby Andrew Haswell Green Park, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

This did little to allay residents' agitation.

"We've reached critical mass," said Teri Slater, a CB8 member. "We want open space — and we're going to get it one way or another."