NYC Council passes controversial New York Blood Center rezoning on Upper East Side

A bloody fight until the very end.

The City Council approved a controversial rezoning measure on Tuesday that will allow the New York Blood Center to expand its Upper East Side headquarters after a bruising battle that pitted the wealthy enclave against Mayor de Blasio and a majority of City Council members.

A rendering of the proposed New York Blood Center building.
A rendering of the proposed New York Blood Center building. (New York Blood Center)

The Council’s approval of the land-use change means that the blood bank and its developer partner, Longfellow Real Estate Partners, will be permitted to build higher, and it signals a major win for de Blasio, who made his intention known in January to make the Big Apple a life sciences hub in light of the COVID pandemic.

De Blasio is stepping down as mayor on Dec. 31 due to term limits and is expected to announce a run for governor in the coming weeks.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

Before the Council’s vote, he said the rezoning is the “right thing to do.”

“We rely on them to make sure there is a supply of blood to save lives in this city,” he said. “They have to be strong for the future, they have to be sustainable.”

Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, was one of the most vocal critics of the project. As the fight over its fate became increasingly fraught, Kallos suggested that de Blasio was taking bribes on the deal by failing to repay his $435,000 debt to Kramer Levin Naftalis, a law firm that defended him against corruption probes and which represents the Blood Center.

At the time, de Blasio responded that Kallos was “wrong, inappropriate [and] unfair” in making such a claim.

New York City Councilmen Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan)
New York City Councilmen Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) 

Kallos also called out $100 million in tax breaks that Longfellow would receive as part of the rezoning package.

And in a last ditch attempt to block the proposal’s passage in the City Council, opponents of the rezoning requested a judge issue a temporary restraining order prior to the Council vote. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Laurence Love denied that demand, though.

The Council voted 43-5 to approve the rezoning. Kallos, along with Council members Ruben Diaz Sr., Carlos Menchaca, Robert Holden and Kalman Yeger, voted against it.

The measure’s passage also calls into question the ultimate fate of the Council’s longstanding tradition of member deference, which essentially allows the member who represents the area in question preference when it comes to land use issues.

Kallos alluded to that fate in a statement before the Council on Tuesday.

“The fight over the new Blood Center building was never about blood,” he said. “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.”

In siding with Kallos, Menchaca told him: “Ben, you’re not alone.”

That’s true, but in the end, he didn’t have the votes.

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