UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The battle over Lenox Hill Hospital's proposed expansion shows no signs of dying down, as preservationist groups signaled their continued opposition to the plan this week despite concessions made by the hospital's owner.
Last month, owner Northwell Health announced it would remove a controversial, 490-foot residential tower and reduce the height of a proposed Lexington Avenue hospital tower down to 436 feet, following months of complaints by residents who said the project's size would be unacceptably out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood.
But in a task force meeting Tuesday, part of an ongoing series convened by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, at least four groups said even the revised proposal was too big for the Upper East Side and called on Northwell to scale back its plans even further.
"The hospital proposal asks for unprecedented zoning changes, ignores hard-won community planning efforts and would loom over the historic district," Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, said during the meeting, according to a written statement that was shared with Patch.
Neighborhood groups including Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Carnegie Hill Neighbors and CIVITAS shared similar sentiments, noting that the revised plan actually increases the new hospital's size by about 72,000 square feet and would still require changing the neighborhood's zoning code to allow for more density.
"This would introduce Midtown-level density to the heart of the Upper East Side with potential to impact quality of life and neighborhood character in an unprecedented way," Friends of the Upper East Side said in their statement.
Opponents cite racial equity
Northwell has said its facilities are in dire need of an upgrade, saying last month that the coronavirus pandemic has "made it dramatically clear" that it needs to expand.
The expansion would not increase the number of beds at Lenox Hill, but instead create individual rooms for hospital patients, allowing for more privacy, according to Northwell. The emergency department and operating rooms would also be significantly enlarged.
Joshua Strugatz, Northwell's Vice President for Manhattan Redevelopment, said in an email that had "listened carefully" to community concerns but defended the project, noting that the proposal would also relieve traffic congestion on nearby side streets by creating new loading docks.
"Since the very beginning, the community’s feedback has played an important role in our efforts to revitalize the hospital, and that will continue as we move forward with the City’s public review process," Strugatz said.
All four neighborhood groups said Tuesday they supported Northwell's desire to expand, but suggested it should either downsize its plans or move parts of its new facilities to another part of the city.
Community Board 8 voted overwhelmingly last October to oppose the plan, and a preservation-oriented group called Committee to Protect Our Lenox Hill Neighborhood sprung up to fight the project, citing its "unacceptable" size and the environmental hazards brought on by a yearslong construction project.
The committee went on hiatus during the spring and summer, sensing the poor optics of fighting a hospital's expansion while its workers served on the front lines of a global pandemic.
Since the battle resumed earlier this fall, however, the groups have pivoted to a new framing, accusing Northwell of racism for seeking to expand its facilities in an affluent neighborhood rather than building new locations in lower-income, minority communities in the outer boroughs.
A Northwell spokesperson noted in response that the system has treated tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients, including many from outside Manhattan.
The Lenox Hill expansion is set to be discussed Tuesday during Community Board 8's Zoning and Development Committee meeting, along with the New York Blood Center's proposed expansion in the neighborhood.
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