The City Council’s committee on land use has delayed a crucial vote on whether to rezone the building housing the New York Blood Center on the day it was scheduled for, as proponents of the rezoning work to ensure they have sufficient votes to pass it over the objections of the council member whose district is home to the center.
The blood center is seeking rezoning approval to build a 16-story, $750 million commercial tower in place of its current, four-story office on East 67th Street — last renovated in the 1960s — that would house an expanded blood lab as well as office space for other private life sciences firms.
The center supplies about 90% of the city’s blood supply, relying primarily on large research and storage facilities in Long Island City and on Long Island that will remain in place regardless of the rezoning decision.
While the blood center has framed the development as a necessary life sciences hub in a city hoping to cement its place as an international capital for medical research, the district’s City Council member, Ben Kallos, has joined with some local residents in opposing it.
They have argued that the tower would block sunlight to a local school and a park, and bring excessive traffic to a largely residential block.
In a phone interview, Kallos said that the blood center has not been forthcoming with him over the past several years, and that he would like to see the building’s extra space used for supportive housing instead of science labs.
“I would describe this whole experience as being gaslit by the blood center,” he said. “They’re trying to make an end-run around the local member and member deference, and they don't have the votes.”
In an emailed statement, Rob Purvis, the blood center’s executive vice president, wrote: “The Blood Center is committed to working together with the Council on a plan that achieves our City and this institution's shared goals."
Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the land use subcommittee, supports the rezoning, and had hoped to shepherd its passage over Kallos’ objections, a highly unusual maneuver in a council that typically defers to council members in rezoning efforts.
Salamanca has accused Kallos of refusing to negotiate, and has argued, alongside other members of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, that the center is necessary for added jobs and health protections.
“It’s hard to tell a nonprofit that saves lives, to say no to them, when they’re trying to increase their capacity and their research for New Yorkers,” Salamanca told POLITICO Monday. “It’s hard to tell them no when your only argument is you’re concerned about the shadows in your community.”
Salamanca did not respond to an interview request.
In a statement Tuesday, the caucus said that the jobs and medical advances created by the new blood center tower would “uplift our historically underserved communities, treat debilitating diseases and endure the effects of a future outbreak.”
Yet a growing number of council members have begun to voice their opposition to the plan in its current form. On Tuesday morning, Councilwoman Inez Barron emailed council members and staff urging them not to support the rezoning plan as is, because the blood center had not agreed to any modifications to their construction plan.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for the rezoning to pass, saying it is an important link in the city’s medical infrastructure. This year, De Blasio has announced $1 billion in investments in developing the life sciences industry in the city through 2026.
“We’ve just gone through a massive public health crisis. And even in the middle of dealing with COVID there were times when we had a huge shortage of blood,” he said at a Tuesday news conference. “The blood center is an absolutely crucial part of this city. It needs to be strong for the future.”
Kallos said he was “concerned” about de Blasio urging council members to support the project, because of the mayor’s close ties to firms working with the blood center.
De Blasio reportedly owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the law firm representing the blood center, and a top adviser to de Blasio is the founder of the PR firm, BerlinRosen, that has been hired by the center, according to the New York Post.
“The mayor’s done as much as he can at this point, and they still don’t have the votes,” Kallos said.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams also supports the plan, telling POLITICO Monday that the council should find a way to “get to yes.” A representative for Adams did not respond to a request for comment.
It was unclear Tuesday afternoon whether council leaders had rescheduled the vote for Wednesday to coincide with a full meeting of the council.
A representative for Speaker Corey Johnson did not respond to questions about the vote.