Northwell Health has big plans for a vacant Upper East Side lot along Third Avenue, between East 76th and 77th Streets, but hospital system’s massive new facility has a few glaring problems, according to neighbors and members of Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee, which was presented with the design during a marathon meeting Thursday night.
The nearly 200,000 square foot, fifteen story building will serve a centralized point of care for cancer patients, according to Northwell representatives, housing numerous cancer-related specialties and a lab all in one location— eliminating waiting rooms to maximize their use of space.
“We envisioned it to be a new model for how we deliver this comprehensive multidisciplinary care,” explained Dr. Dan Baker, executive director of Lenox Hill Hospital.
“What this pavilion won’t be, is inpatient care. So, we won’t see any inpatient beds. We also won’t see any ambulatory surgery, nor will we see any ambulances coming to this site.”
However, to the dismay of neighbors and board members who noted the project is a worthy one, the entire ground floor is occupied by Northwell Health operations— leaving no space for retail shops along a full block of Third Avenue.
Neighbors fear that will leave the east side of the avenue as desolate at night as the currently vacant lot does, as well as change the character of the neighborhood— which is not institutional.
“Why not have 16 stories and have the first floor be retail?” asked Joe, who lives across the street from the Third Avenue site.
“It would be an ongoing income to Northwell in the future and it would allow the neighborhood to continue to enjoy perhaps a restaurant, a Starbucks or whatever might go in there.”
“I really feel it’s very important to the community, in addition to the wonderful facility that will be built,” Joe said.
The issue was raised early and often throughout Thursday night’s meeting, however, while Northwell representatives said they were still in the early stages and that these discussions were important, they appeared to be entirely committed to the single gigantic waiting room vision for most of the medical facility’s ground floor.
“It just pushed out any opportunity to have retail in there,” explained Dr. Baker.
“It really, again, became about putting the patient in the center of the design, in terms of what we’re trying to do, and that’s where that lobby design ended up winning out over the retail.”
Renderings of the 232-foot tall building submitted to the committee show a sprawling glass facade along Third Avenue, extending from the third floor to the upper floors, and surprisingly, no vehicles parked in the front of the building— as they would be in real life.
Numerous UES residents and community board members raised the issue of parking around the building, which Northwell says will likely lose five or six parking spaces in front in order to accommodate patient drop-offs and valet parking, as well as a couple more spots on East 76th Street, where the building’s loading dock is located.
When the issue of staff parking came up— and the rampant use of placards by Northwell staff to park illegally around Lenox Hill Hospital, documented daily by the Lenox Scofflaws Twitter account— the hospital’s executive director took a hard stance, informing the community board committee they are trying to dissuade doctors from flouting the law.
“We don’t provide placards to the physicians,” said Dr. Baker, noting that Lenox Hill Hospital stopped giving out parking placards to doctors last year.
“That is not something that we provide for anymore. If you see those, I apologize, they should not be present,” Dr. Baker added, “we’ll work to reiterate that.”
Construction noise was also raised as an issue, with Northwell Health pointing to the requirements of a noise mitigation plan as proof they will be good neighbors during that phase of development, however, all new construction is required to have that plan and many still rack up dozens of 311 complaints for excessive noise.
Luckily for neighbors, the building’s foundation will not deep, so the jackhammering and blasting should not continue for a prolonged period of time.
The building is designed to be constructed as-of-right, which means that it does not need any variances or approvals to be built and meets all current zoning regulations— unlike the controversial Blood Center tower, which underwent a lengthy re-zoning process before being approved by the City Council and Mayor against the community’s wishes.
Some board members questioned why Northwell Health did not seek variances for the site, which could have been approved in exchange for the addition of ground floor retail space and an installation of an elevator at the 77th Street-Lexington Avenue Subway station.
Northwell reps said it was all about getting the project completed in the shortest period of time.
“You bought this property four years ago,” said Anthony Cohn, co-chair of Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee.
“It’s been vacant for a long time. That 18 months to two years could have been 18 months to two years ago,” Cohn added, making a very good point about the accelerated pace of the project.
Representatives for the hospital system did make one special commitment Thursday night, vowing to create a 24-hour hotline neighbors can call with any issues that may arise from the construction site. There is currently a website available with information for neighbors.
If all goes as planned, demolition on the final building standing at the site will begin in December and the building will open in late 2025 or early 2026.