First it was the New York Blood Center, then it was Lenox Hill Hospital, now Memorial Sloan Kettering is the latest tax-exempt organization seeking to forever change the landscape of the Upper East Side with a imposing new medical tower, dubbed MSK Pavilion, which stands a staggering 60-stories despite only 31-floors thanks to its luxury 15-to-18 foot ceiling heights — and will require a variety of zoning changes because it is simply way too large for the Upper East Side plot of land where they want to build.
“The building is very, very bulky” said concerned Community Board 8 member Alida Camp, following a presentation about the so-called new ‘MSK Pavilion’ to Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee meeting Tuesday night, “Six hundred feet is tall.”
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“People have increasingly become alarmed and concerned about the incursion of large, bulky buildings in our communities,” added Sharon Pope-Marshall, a committee co-chair, “I’d like to challenge the design team to think outside of the box.”
MSK Pavilion is planned to rise to a whopping 594’ above York Avenue between East 66th and 67th Streets, the team from MSKCC revealed Tuesday night, and will encompass nearly one million square feet — triple the amount of space occupied by the current residential buildings.
“From a community perspective, it would be far preferable to have two smaller buildings,” explained CB8 member Elizabeth Rose, “don’t make the pavilion as large as it is currently proposed to be — make it somewhat smaller.”
“Then use some of that square footage and redevelop one of those some of that lower rise property to a larger but moderate size,” Rose continued, proposing a reasonable comprise to the hospital’s representatives that fell on deaf ears.
The 60-story monstrosity is clearly out-of-character with the neighborhood in skyline renderings provided by the world-famous cancer center — which accepts a limited number of health insurance plans and whose care is otherwise unaffordable to a middle-class cancer patient — show the building will become one of the tallest buildings on the Upper East Side, and raising serious concerns about the shadows it would cast over a nearby school.
Memorial Sloan Kettering is an outlier in the hospital industry in the way it transparently lists the estimated standard costs of procedures directly on their website — albeit in an unreadable file format for the average consumer, who would need advanced knowledge to convert the database into to a different file format, then determine how to sort or search the dataset of 60,638 possible medical procedure charges.
“Some would say that that’s kind of a burden on neighborhood infrastructure,” said Leah, a member of the public who also questioned whether, in exchange for zoning concessions for MSK Pavilion, Memorial Sloan Kettering should have to enter an enforceable agreement “to serve the people who are here, not just people flying in from out-of-state or out-of-the-country, who are well-heeled enough and have good-enough insurance that you’re willing to take them.”
Not only would the massive new medical tower be more than double the height of the twin 270’ tall staff residences currently at the location, which would have to be demolished, displacing hundreds of doctors and MSKCC staff current occupying the residential buildings’ 308 units, who would be forced to seek housing on open market, further driving up rent costs on the Upper East Side and even displacing other residents, as noted by CB8 board members Anthony Cohn and Alida Camp.
“One of our concerns is a net loss of housing, and so, if people move from a building that you own to the marketplace, they are, in fact, taking apartments away from people who already have them there,” Cohn explained.
“By buying buildings and getting rid of housing here, given the housing shortage in the city, you are taking it away from people,” added Camp.
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The plan for the MSK Pavilion also includes a four-story tall skybridge over East 67th Street that would connecting the two building starting at 75’ above street level and would also likely include years of disruptions to the bus stop located directly in front of the site though the duration of the mega-tower’s construction.
As organizations like MSK — which don’t pay any income or property taxes that would benefit our neighborhood — work to turn the Upper East Side into a sky-scraping hospital city where there is no ground level retail space, no residential space except for their doctors and their world-renown care is unreachable to anyone but the wealthy, the lengthy Universal Land Use Review Procedure, known as ULURP, by which the hospital will be required gain the approval of the City Council and the Mayor, remains the only way for the people who actually live on the Upper East Side can take a stand against these enormous encroachments.
“My point is, their [increased surgical space] can be on the Upper East Side or it can be in the Bronx,” said Community Board 8 member Marco Tamayo, pointing out that MSK could construct a less intrusive facility in another location, ”I think that is the issue of the height of the building — and that, basically, you can be located in any other place.”
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As in the case of Lenox Hill Hospital’s plan to build an enormous 43-story medical tower over Lexington Avenue, the high-paid hospital administrators and consultants who made the presentation to the committee on Tuesday were stubborn in their refusal to budge from their extravagant plans drawn up in opposition to current zoning plans.
“It just doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work for modern facilities,” said Lisa DeAngelis, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer, not offering specifics, “We could not figure out how to make that work.”
However, even in the face of opposition during the ULURP process, the gigantic building could be rammed through against the wishes of Upper East Side residents, forever changing the character of the neighborhood, by gaining the support of other council members representing areas outside of the Upper East Side, who could vote in favor of the controversial project in defiance of the tradition known as ‘member deference,’ where council members vote the same way as the member whose community would be impacted.
The tradition was abandoned during the ULURP process for the New York Blood Center’s planned massive, and also unwanted, tower on East 67th Street — which will include plenty of commercial office space for the project’s developer — to move forward unimpeded.
If Memorial Sloan Kettering gets its way with its colossal MSK Pavilion, construction is expected to last at least five and a half years — which is somehow less half the time need for to build the shorter, but still obscenely large 44-story tower lusted for by LHH — with the building’s panned opening at some point in 2030.
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