Appellate Court Affirms Special Permit for Hospital for Special Surgery

Hospital for Special Surgery. Image Credit: Hospital for Special Surgery.

Hospital for Special Surgery. Image Credit: Hospital for Special Surgery.

Resident opponents failed to block City Planning’s approval of Hospital for Special Surgery expansion. The Hospital for Special Surgery (HHS), located at 535 East 70th Street, proposed a major renovation and expansion of its existing facility located between East 70th  Street and East 72nd Street, and between York Avenue and  the FDR Drive in Manhattan.

On December 26, 2006, the City Planning Commission (CPC) issued a positive declaration and Lead Agency Determination along with an Environmental Assessment Statement.  On August 11, 2008, after issuing a Notice of Completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), the CPC approved HSS’s application. On October 7, 2008, the City Council approved HSS’s special permit, zoning amendment, and city map amendment applications associated with the proposed. (See CityLand’s past coverage here).

The expansion would increase the hospital facilities by 137,869 sq. ft., including a three-story addition to the East Wing, and a new 12-story building, known as the “River Building”to be constructed on a platform over the FDR Drive between East 71st Street and the midblock line between East 71st and East 72nd Street. The project would allow the hospital to expand its operating room capacity, inpatient beds, ambulatory surgery, diagnostic imaging services, sports medicine rehabilitation, and physician offices in a close proximity to existing hospital buildings in order to maximize HSS’s operational capabilities. According to the affidavit of Louis A. Shapiro, the chief executive officer of HSS, there is a pressing need for additional modern and efficient space for patients and physicians to accommodate current and future needs. The hospital has experienced a significant growth in the number of surgeries performed at HSS, the hospital is operating at very close to capacity, and the volume of patients seeking HSS’s services is increasing.

The hospital and the City faced legal opposition from residents who live in two structures near the hospital, Edgewater, located on 530 East 72nd Street, which is a 21-story white-brick postwar cooperative, and a row of five-story walkups known as the “Black and Whites,” from 527-541 East 72nd Street with distinctive brick exteriors, painted with black and white trim, built in 1894.

On December 5, 2008, local residents brought an article 78 proceeding, seeking to set aside City Planning and City Council’s approval for proposed expansion of the hospital.

The residents alleged that the expansion would have deleterious and negative environmental impact, and that the proposed expansion violated the State Environmental Quality and Review Act (SEQRA), the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR), and the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), as well as the city’s zoning rules and related agreements, the Water Front Revitalization Program, and the common law public trust doctrine. They further alleged that the City’s review of the project was affected by an error of law, was arbitrary and capricious and constituted an abuse of discretion because the City failed to take a hard look at the project’s unique location in a crowded and congested residentially zoned district, on a water front, and bordering and encroaching on parkland.

On January 11, 2012, the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan denied the residents’ petition, dismissed the proceeding, and denied the residents’ motion for a hearing. The Court held that the City’s determinations were not affected by any error of law, was not arbitrary and capricious, and did not constitute an abuse of discretion. The Court held that the FEIS took the hard look required by law and adequately addressed the concerns raised by the residents.

On July 27, 2013, the Appellate Division, First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court held that the City’s approval of the proposed expansion was not arbitrary and capricious. According to the court, the City took a hard look at the anticipated adverse environmental impact of the HSS’s expansion project and a provided a “reasoned elaboration” of the basis for its determination.

Matter of Hand v. Hospital for Special Surgery, 2013 N.Y. Slip. Op. 04906 (1st Dep’t June 27, 2013) (Attorneys: Jack L. Lester for Hand; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP for Hospital for Special Surgery; Michael A. Cardozo and Elizabeth S. Natrella of counsel for NYC).

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