MANHATTAN – Less than twenty-four hours after an expected City Council vote on the controversial Upper East Side Blood Center tower project was postponed, Mayor de Blasio denied his reported $300,000 debt to a law firm representing the project has any influence on his support for the planned development.
“It’s a debt. I’m going to pay it. We all have debts, it’s part of life for so many of us,” Mayor de Blasio said Blasio during his daily media briefing Wednesday, rejecting any play-to-play insinuations.
On Tuesday, Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos called out what he sees as a conflict of interest for the Mayor— a massive debt to a law firm Kramer Levin, which also represents the Blood Center tower project.
“Mayor de Blasio owes these lawyers $300,000. These lawyers have business before him,” Councilman Kallos told the Daily News on Tuesday.
“This seems like a gift, and I don’t know why it isn’t considered a bribe.”
“I do not have a lot of extra resources kicking around,” Mayor de Blasio shot back on Wednesday.
“I would have to raise the money, but I will over time and I will pay it off,” the Mayor promised.
The proposal would rezone the New York Blood Center’s property on East 67th Street in order to build a sprawling office tower and bio-medical sciences campus at the site.
Just over an hour before the council vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, a deal to move forward with the project was announced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“The project… has been reduced in height by over 100 feet, will include additional funding for St. Catherine’s Park and the Julia Richman Educational Complex, and measures to ensure that the only building of this size that can be built here will be for life sciences research,” the announcement states.
Signing on to the joint statement in addition to Speaker Johnson was Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmen Francisco Moya, Rafael Salamanca, and Keith Powers.
Noticeably missing from the announcement was Councilman Kallos, who was not part of the compromise agreement.
The Blood Center tower has sailed through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, despite fierce opposition in the community.
In September, the Blood Center tower project secured approval from the city’s Planning Commission in a 8-2 vote, even though tower got a thumbs down from Community Board 8, Councilmen Powers and Kallos, Borough President Gale Brewer, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and hundreds of neighbors.
Opponents say the development will cast a shadow over the Julia Richman Educational Complex across the street and St. Catherine’s Park— shading the only green space in the area.
At a City Council subcommittee meeting in October, the Blood Center said it would reduce the building’s height by fifty feet from its initial 334’ height to 284’, a height they claim would not cast shadows before 3:00 pm most of the year. Today’s deal brings the height below 234′.
If approved by the council, the proposal would head to the Mayor, who would have five days to veto the rezoning– something Mayor de Blasio doesn’t appear to be willing to do.
The Blood Center says it “cannot expand its life-saving research and development due to the physical limitations of its current facility, which was originally built in 1930.”