CB8 QUESTIONS THE CANCER TREATMENT CENTER’S WILLINGNESS TO HEAR PUBLIC OPINION ON NEW CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
By Paul Bisceglio
Memorial Sloan-Kettering counsel Shelly Friedman frustrated the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 at its full-board meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 14, by refusing to hold a second public hearing on the environmental impact of the recently announced medical center construction project on East 73rd Street.
The project, a $215 million real estate deal between the renowned cancer treatment center, Hunter College and the city, will add two new facilities on a lot by the East River: a 750,000-square-foot outpatient cancer care building and a 336,000-square-foot science and health professions school.
Following the deal’s confirmation in September, the project entered a public feedback—or “scoping”—period, during which anyone with concerns about the project’s effects on the surrounding Upper East Side neighborhoods could share their thoughts with the parties involved. Included in the process was a hearing during which residents could speak directly with Friedman and other MSK and Hunter College representatives. The hearing, though, was held on Nov. 1, three days after Hurricane Sandy.
“I am outraged. It’s not even a sham of a mockery,” said Ed Hartzog, a CB8 member, of Friedman’s refusal to entertain the notion of a second meeting after almost no one attended the first. “You had a public hearing, the public wasn’t informed. You are shoving this process forward without any public input.”
Friedman disagreed. The public was well-informed of the hearing, he claimed: It was announced weeks in advance in accordance with scoping rules, and an e-mail went out shortly before the meeting to confirm that it was still on. “The sense was that the city had sufficiently returned to normal,” Friedman said. “There was a sense that buildings were available. This wasn’t like a snowstorm in which people couldn’t navigate the streets. It was terrible, but people were out in the streets, stores were open, transportation was available. There was no reason to put it off.”
He noted that the scoping period had been for comments after the storm.
“Scoping hearings,” he added, “do not conduct themselves according to the Community Board’s rules.”
Board members contended that they were not arguing for rules, but principles. “Forgetting about whether there has to be a second meeting or not, the point is that this is a project in which you claimed to be a good neighbor and part of the community,” said board member A. Scott Falk. “When in doubt, err on the side of openness. You’re expecting us to approve several variances. All we’re asking you to do is hold a second meeting. This is not about what you have to do, this is about what you should do and could do.”
Friedman shot back that holding another meeting would be useless, because the scoping period was still open and the public could still share their concerns. “These hearings aren’t for people to come and get information,” he explained. “The whole concept of the scoping hearing is that there’s material online, and if you have a comment about what’s online, you can come in, you can write, you can telephone, you can e-mail, you can do whatever you want to submit your comments. The hearing is not the be-all, end-all of the scoping process. … Nothing in that process has been compromised.”
CB8 was not convinced. Following the discussion, they voted to pass a motion that requested a second hearing and a further extension of the comment period.
This was not the first time Upper East Side residents questioned MSK’s neighborly character. Earlier this year, co-op residents in a building next to MSK’s outpatient surgery facility at York Avenue and East 61st Street protested renovations to the facility that would block their building’s windows. MSK rejected their requests for a less bulky design.
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