City Council backs new NYC Blood Center tower amid fierce pushback, including Jeffrey Epstein’s brother

This, too, shall pass.

The New York City Council approved plans Tuesday to allow the non-profit Blood Center to build a new 200-foot tall research and office tower on the Upper East Side, overriding stiff opposition from nearby residents.

The 43-5 vote was the first time in at least a decade that city lawmakers backed a project over the wishes of the local lawmaker, Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhttan), in a notable break from the usual deference offered in zoning cases.

“It wasn’t like I woke up one day and said ‘We’re passing the Blood Center.’ It was a continuous conversation in the body,” said Speaker Corey Johnson during a press conference before the vote. “This project has citywide importance because of what the Blood Center does for the health care system, for hospitals, for the future of life sciences in New York City.”

The new tower will be approximately 230 feet tall — roughly 100 shorter than first proposed.

Kallos was joined by just four other city lawmakers: Councilmen Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn), Bob Holden (D-Queens) and Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-The Bronx.)

Council member Keith Powers
Councilman Keith Powers is the lawmaker for the neighboring district.

“Local council members don’t matter anymore and can no longer represent their communities,” Kallos said during an impassioned speech.

The blood bank initially sought to build a 330-foot tower at the site on 310 East 67th St. to replace its current 90-year-old facility on the site, a three-story complex that stretches the width of the block to 66th Street and was originally built as a trade school.

Locals pushed back hard against the proposal, arguing the new tower would cast shadows over a nearby park and school and disrupt the flow of sunlight into apartments, with many arguing the Blood Center should just move elsewhere despite owning its lot.

One of the most notable opponents was Mark Epstein, the brother of Jeffrey Epstein. He claims to own more than 150 apartments in a neighboring condo building, some of which were allegedly rented to the notorious pedophile, who housed his victims there.

Councilman Ben Kallos
Councilman Ben Kallos’ opposition to the tower left his colleagues deeply frustrated.
William Farrington

Jeffery Epstein committed suicide in the Manhattan federal detention center in August 2019 as he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges following his arrest a month earlier.

Brother, Mark, is among the locals who attempted to invoke a little-known provision of the city Charter to require a three-quarters vote on the project — a threshold the measure exceeded.

Never a popular figure on the Council, Kallos’ implacable opposition to the tower left his colleagues deeply frustrated.

The politically powerful Black, Latino and Asian Caucus signaled as much when it issued an extraordinary statement that said Kallos and the Blood Center needed to strike a deal — a statement later echoed by Mayor-elect Eric Adams.

Gale Arnot Brewer, Manhattan Borough President
Manhattan BP Gale Brewer intervened in the talks and hammered out a package that shaved 100 feet off the tower.

The blood bank already had the support of outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fact Kallos frequently highlighted, claiming that Hizzoner was simply doing a favor for a white shoe law firm representing the project which he owes more than $250,000.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the lawmaker for the neighboring district, Councilman Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) intervened in the talks and hammered out a package that shaved 100 feet off of the tower. It also includes funding for renovations to the park.

Johnson pointedly demurred — and other lawmakers standing near him knowingly smirked — when pressed by reporters if Kallos leading the opposition made it easier to overcome the usual deference given local lawmakers.

“Part of what you have to do inside the body is to be able to work closely with your colleagues in a collegial way,” said Johnson. “You need to be able to work with folks.”