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UES Park Could Get Overhaul Thanks to Controversial New Medical Center

By DNAinfo Staff on February 14, 2013 9:55pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — Developers of a controversial medical center and nursing school on the Upper East Side will pay for park improvements if they get their desired zoning changes, officials confirmed this week.

The City University of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which are building a new joint campus at the FDR Drive and East 73rd Street, will "fully fund design and construction" of an overhaul for Andrew Haswell Green Park, according to project coordinators and Department of Parks and Recreation officials.

The move is an attempt to please residents who have spoken out against the nearly 1 million-square-foot complex, which would house a state-of-the-art ambulatory cancer center and nursing school, but which some residents worry will overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic and other issues. One resident even compared the new building to the discomfort of sitting next to a "morbidly obese man" on a long plane ride at a recent public meeting.

The project's backers counter that they have come up with a compromise that will improve open space in the neighborhood.

If the city grants zoning changes that will allow CUNY and Memorial Sloan-Kettering to build as big as they'd like — and if they're able to secure additional parking spots — they'll address open space concerns by revamping a 1.1-acre portion of Andrew Haswell Green Park along the East River between East 60th and East 62nd streets, officials said.

"We are talking to the Parks Department," said Shelly Friedman, a lobbyist representing the project. "We're in consultation with them about a monetary contribution which will be known as a park improvement."

Phil Abramson, Parks spokesman, confirmed the proposition.

"Under the proposed zoning changes, MSK/CUNY will provide a completed public park improvement," he said in an e-mail to DNAinfo.com New York.

"MSK/CUNY, working with Parks and City Planning, agreed that, if approved, the project would fully fund the design and construction by Parks of Andrew Haswell Green Park Phase 2B."

The project includes repair of deteriorated pilings — required to prevent the park from sinking into the East River — along with new trees, shrubs, plants and grass, as well as hardscape such as pavement, stairs, walls, benches and game tables, Parks officials said.

The Parks Department has not yet determined how much that work will cost, officials said.

The commitment to improved park space did little to ease Upper East Side residents's concerns at a meeting Tuesday night.

Community Board 8 member Teri Slater wanted to know why CUNY-MSK wouldn't fix the East River esplanade near the new nursing complex, instead of a park 10 blocks away from the project.

"I still have the same question: Where is the open space? I'm not referring to Andrew Haswell," she said, adding that the esplanade is "desperately in need of infrastructure repairs."

"I find it surprising that you'd go to the Parks Department and ask the Parks Department where they think that kind of contribution should go when in fact the community board is making a decision in that regard," Slater said.

East 72nd Street resident George Alexiades was equally displeased.

"When you guys want all your variances and say, 'If we give you a better park down the street,' how's that supposed to impact my lifestyle?" he said.

"You may call it a 'monetary contribution,'" Alexiades added. "I call it a bribe."