Locals Protest as MSK-CUNY Campus Moves Forward

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The hospital and science campus planned for East 74th Street still faces some community opposition The forthcoming state-of-the-art Memorial Sloan Kettering-Hunter College cancer center is one step closer to breaking ground on the East River. The plans for the new science center, which is set to go up on 74th Street between York Avenue and FDR Drive, recently entered the 60-day public review process, which includes input and public hearings from the Community Board and the Manhattan Borough President. If all goes well, said Avice Meehan, a representative from Memorial Sloan Kettering, construction on the project will begin next year. But some community members in opposition to the plan are not giving in without a fight. From the beginning, many Upper East Side community members have expressed concern over the project - saying that the new 1,100,000 square feet complex will block neighbors' view of the river and create congestion as thousands of students, doctors and patients flood the area every day. At a recent Community Board 8 meeting, several angry community members showed up, and vowed not to vote for any elected official who supports the new cancer center. "This building will destroy our neighborhood and destroy our waterfront property," said George Alexiades, a community member. "This site should be a park; the project would be a detriment to our community at large." Gari Smith-Alexiades, George's wife, said that not only would the view from their apartment be completely blocked, but their backyard would be cut off from sunlight. "It would go a long way if they built the building and actually left some open space on the lot or improved something that would benefit the community impacted," said Smith-Alexiades. The plans for the new cancer center began when the city issued an RFP (request for proposals) to develop the land along 73rd and 74th Streets and the FDR drive, and stipulated that the site had to be an educational or healthcare facility in 2011. The following year, in August 2012, Mayor Bloomberg announced that MSK/Hunter had been appointed to the project. The facility will include two glass buildings: an outpatient care facility, and a Hunter College health sciences education facility. Meehan, the representative from Memorial Sloan Kettering, said that they have addressed the community's concerns. The access to the waterfront will not be an issue, she said, because there is no direct access to the East River esplanade currently. Right now, she said, the area is just a dead-end parking lot. Meehan said that as for the traffic congestion, Memorial Sloan-Kettering has carefully addressed the potentially thorny problem. The design of the center's parking and entrances will direct auto and pedestrian traffic directly toward the facilities. The patient drop-off area, she said, will lead directly to the parking garages. In addition, the loading docks have been designed so that trucks can pull directly off the street and into the docks. But Smith-Alexiades is not convinced. "I don't know if their plans will be enough to mitigate hold-ups and delays on 73rd Street," she said. "Congestion is bad already, and most of us feel this is not the right place for the facilities at all." Either way, MSK/CUNY claims that they are doing everything in their power to balance the needs of the community with their own plans. "I think this represents an important economic and intellectual engine for the city, and we will continue to meet with the community board to be as clear and open to the community as we can," said Meehan. "We view this as an important project for New York, the East Side and future of cancer treatment and research."

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