The fight over the new Blood Center building was never about blood. It has been about two other issues: How high should the center’s for-profit partner Longfellow Development’s commercial offices tower over a residential neighborhood, and member deference.
Despite us not yet having reached a deal I could support, the Land Use Committee voted to approve a modified version of the project, which would be built in the district I represent. To pave the way for this vote, which bucked “member deference,” much was done to paint me as an unreasonable NIMBY and the blood supply as at risk.
My Community Board and I have never opposed a rezoning before. In fact we voted Yes In My Back Yard to a homeless shelter three blocks from where I live and multiple rezonings, including a four-city-block-long life sciences project at Rockefeller University and expanding Hospital for Special Surgery. We cut the ribbon on the Belfer Research Tower, Memorial Sloan Kettering Tower at 74th Street, and acres of space for Cornell Tech. We are building two new towers for the Hospital for Special Surgery on 79th Street and at 71st Street over the FDR Drive.
I have always been willing to build the Blood Center a new building and our blood supply has never been at risk, because they are only permitted by the FDA to test and distribute blood from its complexes in Long Island City just over a mile away and on Long Island — not from the Upper East Side. These sites are part of a vast network of buildings that allows the Blood Center to compete with the Red Cross across 17 states.
In fact, the final changes I was asking for on behalf of my constituents, which would have gotten us to a deal, only affected the commercial tower, which takes up two thirds of the new building.
That commercial space is being propped up by a 30-foot mechanical floor and ultra-luxury, double-height ceiling heights. Perhaps that’s because Longfellow’s trademark office service, Elevate, boasts of offering tenants “curated amenities” from spa treatments and yoga to free-flowing beer and wine, because in Longfellow’s words, “No one goes to work just to work anymore…”
The gap we could not cross in our negotiations was how high these money-making spaces would rise, not how many floors or how large the floors would be — all of that would be unchanged. We simply asked Longfellow to move 30 feet of mechanical equipment from the middle of the building to the roof and lower their ceiling heights from 18 feet to a more reasonable but still tall 14 feet. In exchange, they would be allowed an additional 50,000 square feet on top of the rezoning we are voting on today.
This generous offer was rejected because Longfellow wanted more valuable commercial space and because the Mayor and special interests wanted to prove a point: local Council Members don’t matter anymore and can no longer represent their communities.
I am grateful to the community members and colleagues who stood by me and helped us get the building down from 334 feet to 233 feet largely by reducing the height of empty spaces in the original 16-story building.
Though I remain frustrated that my community and I didn’t have a seat at the table as Mayor Bill de Blasio himself negotiated the project for developers represented by lobbyists, Kramer Levin, whom he owes more than $250,000 dollars for keeping him out of jail. The community has demanded investigations, the Mayor should have recused himself and still hasn’t answered if and when he will ever repay this five year old debt.
Only after the committee vote, we learned about the enormous bill this project is going to put on taxpayers. In addition to the 300,000 square feet of air rights for Longfellow, valued at $300 million, the Mayor is giving Longfellow, a Boston-based for-profit developer, $450 million in tax breaks, that’s $750 million in subsidies.
We still don’t have binding community benefit agreements and the promised restrictive declaration fails to do what the Mayor prmised.
The Council rejected Amazon over a $3 billion subsidy and this near billion-dollar giveaway to Longfellow for six floors of commercial space should get the same scrutiny.
The current project is only 12 stories, but it is 233 feet tall. That’s because more than half the building, 118 feet, comes from ceiling heights of 18, 20, and even 30 feet tall.
I led this Council in capping heights on mechanical floors in residential buildings at 20 feet. I don’t see how we can support a building with a 30-foot mechanical floor.
Approval from the full Council, would create a blueprint for deep-pocketed developers to get what they want. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will work for affordable housing developers, homeless services, faith-based groups, or non-profit providers.
The community filed a Protest whose sole purpose is to defeat spot zonings like this one that should force the full City Council to achieve a 75% majority of 39 yes votes to pass this rezoning. No matter the outcome, I am committed to working with the Blood Center on a new building.
I am asking you my colleagues to honor member deference and oppose the Longfellow Commercial Tower proposal from the Blood Center by voting NO on Land Use items 864, 865, and 866, and Resolutions 1815, 1816, and 1817.