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Mayor Of Albany, Common Council Remain At Odds Over Blood Plasma Center Zoning

CSL Plasma in Schenectady [inset: Corey Ellis & Mayor Kathy Sheehan]
Composite Image by Dave Lucas/WAMC/Google
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CSL Plasma in Schenectady [inset: Corey Ellis & Mayor Kathy Sheehan]

For more than two years, a Florida-based company has been trying to establish a blood plasma collection center in Albany at the Hannaford Plaza on Central and Colvin Avenues. The mayor and common council remain at odds over the proposal.
CSL Plasma runs hundreds of plasma collection centers around the world. The facilities are often located on heavily traveled bus or subway lines and can appeal to college students and people with low incomes.

CSL opened a Schenectady center about a year ago but has faced stiff opposition from Albany's Common Council in trying to establish another at Hannaford Plaza. Council President Corey Ellis is also Upstate Political Director for the New York State Nurses Association.

"For me, working in health care, you'd like it somewhere around, near other health care facilities. Because something could happen, and if you're close to other health care facilities and something happens to someone it’s easy to transport them to a health care facility if something should happen within that blood plasma treatment.”

CSL also ran afoul with Albany's planning department, which said a plasma center could not be classified as a clinic, or an office, or for that matter, a retail establishment.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan believes the center would be a tremendous benefit to the city, especially now... "You know blood plasma is in the news. Right now it's being investigated as way to be able to treat people with really really serious sickness from the coronavirus. And my understanding is that there are those on the council who believe that this is a social justice issue, that blood plasma donation centers take advantage of low-income people."

Ellis: "Other council members thought it was a bad site because of the population it would bring. So there were many different reasons for different council members. But for the purpose of the ordinance, it was about the distance."

In February the Common Council unanimously voted to require a 1,000-foot buffer between plasma centers and schools, churches or private home. Hannaford Plaza is close to Westland Hills Park and to a residential area.

"Council members are really united on this issue. Council members felt in the beginning a thousand feet was standard and our planning department changed it. And so the council used its power, its right to set the distance. And that's the big issue. We also know that there are over a hundred other sites troughout the city this blood plasma can be put in, so it's not that the council members are being really against it, it doesn't follow the thousand feet requirement that the council has set forth."

Sheehan: "You know I think that there really can't be any concerns, there shouldn't be any concerns about the operations of a center that is being proposed for a Hannaford Plaza."

Citing a flawed process and lack of any public hearing, Sheehan vetoed the council's proposed change to the zoning code that would have prevented any firm from opening a plasma center at the plaza. Ellis says the council "re-did the ordinance in the correct way and it was passed Monday."

"Yes there are some houses that are within a thousand feet, but they're behind this shopping center and just not accessible from the shopping center. You can't get to the houses form the parking lot of the shopping center. So, you know, I think some of it is nimbyism, people's preconceived ideas. But in order to donate blood plasma you have to be able to be, um, to donate, and I think that some of the concerns are unfounded," said Mayor Sheehan.

CSL said it did not have anyone immediately available for comment. Plasma donation is recognized as essential critical infrastructure by Homeland Security under the President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America.

Ellis said "The company has threatened to sue the council. Didn't believe the council had that authority, which we disagree with. So we will see."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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