Lenox Hill Hospital’s multibillion-dollar plan to redevelop its Upper East Side campus and convert part of the site into a market-rate condo tower hit a community roadblock Wednesday.
Concerned locals with Manhattan Community Board 8 overwhelmingly shot down the hospital’s preliminary plans to upzone a block bounded by Park and Lexington avenues, and 76th and 77th streets for an ambitious expansion that would include a 516-foot main hospital tower and a 490-foot residential building. The effort is a $2.5 billion hospital overhaul to improve services and patient amenities that would occur in stages over ten years—a construction timeline that is a tough pill to swallow for neighbors.
The undertaking would nearly double the hospital’s footprint—from 780,000 to 1.3 million square feet—and revamp Lenox Hill’s emergency department, create new surgical suites, and launch a new Mother-Baby Hospital with a separate entrance, among other additions. The new campus wouldn’t actually increase the hospital’s number of beds, but would instead upgrade all rooms for single-patient use.
Critics argue that the expansion prioritizes the hospital as a “medical tourism destination” over providing affordable health care, and call the towers out of character with the area.
“We certainly don’t need this monstrous development that is so out of scale with our neighborhood,” Andy Soussloff, who lives across the street from the current campus and is a member of the Committee to Protect Our Lenox Hill Neighborhood, which formed in opposition to the expansion, said at a Wednesday community board meeting.
Leonx Hill’s parent company, Northwell Health, aims to beef up the building density to a level typically found in Midtown, and neighborhood preservationists say that change “would completely undermine the special and consistent character of the area.”
A pair of special districts currently cap development on Park Avenue at 210 feet and on Lexington Avenue at 170 feet, but zoning changes could allow for taller projects. Rachel Levy, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, says the project’s “context has no place on this block” and that it would “deprive a broad swath of the neighborhood of light and air.”
Josh Strugatz, Northwell Health’s vice president for Manhattan redevelopment, stressed that the project is in the “very early stages” and that hospital officials plan to create a neighborhood working group to foster a running dialogue on locals’ concerns.
“To maintain our future viability we need to make the necessary investments to meet your needs,” Strugatz told the community board at Wednesday’s packed meeting. “I want to assure you that we are listening to your concerns and working toward possible solutions as we continue planning for the future of this important institution.”
Community Board 8 passed the resolution in opposition to the preliminary expansion plan, but the official land use process has not been initiated. Northwell Health would need to secure zoning variances from the city—and go through a lengthy land use review process—in order to build the expansion as it is currently designed. If that occurs, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer would have an opportunity to weigh in on the plan, and the process would culminate with a City Council vote.
The community board’s vote is advisory, and is not a binding judgement on Lenox Hill’s effort. Instead it servers as a signal to elected officials on where locals stand on the project. The resolution against the expansion passed 36-3 with one abstention.
Councilmember Keith Powers and Borough President Brewer have asked Northwell to explore an expansion on the hospital’s campus in compliance with what’s currently allowed on the site, and question why rewriting the block’s zoning is crucial to their plan.
“Before this proposal moves forward, Northwell must provide clear details of why it is necessary that the height, scale and density of the two proposed buildings are needed to achieve the overall mission of the project,” Powers and Brewer wrote in a joint October 23 letter to Strugatz.
The pair of pols also call on Northwell to include another nearby parcel—an entire block on Third Avenue between 76th and 77th streets—the hospital provider acquired with plans to develop into the planning process for the hospital’s main campus. Not to do so would be a “missed opportunity” for “comprehensive planning,” Power and Brewer argue in their letter.
“We look forward to working with Northwell to incorporate feedback from the community on this endeavor, and to ensure that any future development is sensitive to the residential nature of the surrounding neighborhood,” the elected officials wrote.