CHA: ‘Worst-case scenario’ just got worse
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cobble Hill residents said they were shocked to learn at a recent meeting that Fortis Property Group has changed the “worst-case scenario” of their development plan for the site of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
The change makes a bad plan even worse, say members of the Cobble Hill Association (CHA), which has been meeting with Fortis to try to work out a development plan that would preserve the character of the low-rise, historical neighborhood surrounding the LICH site.
The “as-of-right” version of the plan, which would not require community review, now includes student housing that could hold as many as 800 students. This could increase Cobble Hill’s population by almost 30 percent, opponents say.
The other option for the LICH site, called the ULURP plan, would include senior and affordable housing and a public school, but would entail 43 percent more development in total than the as-of-right plan. The ULURP plan, favored by Fortis and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been pushing for affordable housing, would require community review.
Both plans include soaring towers, but the ULURP plan, though denser, would push the tallest of them closer to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and away from the edge of the Cobble Hill Historic District. Both plan also include a new NYU medical facility with a stand-alone ER, though no hospital beds.
CHA leaders say the plan differs drastically from the version shown at two prior public meetings.
“The CHA has been involved in discussion with Fortis since the beginning of the process in May. We were shocked to learn at a meeting this week that Fortis had materially changed the As-of-Right plan from the proposal they twice exhibited in public meetings attended by local elected officials,” CHA Vice President Buzz Doherty told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“The new plan, which includes student housing under a ‘community facility’ zoning exception, increases the residential component of the As-of-Right plan by almost 40 percent and would contribute to an almost 30 percent total increase in Cobble Hill’s population, along with massive new tall towers completely out of context with the adjacent historic landmarked neighborhood,” Doherty added.
Fortis spokesperson James Yolles told the Eagle, “The site's as of right zoning permits community facility space in addition to residential. Student housing, for which there is strong demand, is one of the community facility uses we are exploring. However, we continue to believe our rezoning plan, which would include affordable and senior housing, a new public school and increased park space, is a great alternative for the neighborhood. We look forward to continuing discussions with the community over the coming weeks."
The new As-of-Right plan includes 528,935 square feet of market rate residential and 262,555 square feet of “community facility” student housing. The ULURP plan includes 900,000 square feet of market rate residential, 10,000 square feet of retail, and 225,000 square feet of affordable residential. It also includes a 40,000 square foot school.
Residents believe the new plan is designed to “scare” the community into supporting Fortis’ preferred ULURP plan, which would require zoning changes.
“We were told by Fortis that they are prepared to proceed with this plan if the community and all the other participants involved in a rezoning process do not support their even-larger plan,” Doherty said.
At a meeting in May, City Councilmember Brad Lander told residents it would be difficult to fight Fortis’ As-of-Right plan. However, “The ULURP proposal doesn’t go through unless we approve it,” he said.
On Monday Lander said in a statement, “A 'mega-dorm' is a horrible use for Cobble Hill. Especially combined with 40-story, market-rate towers in a five-story, low-rise neighborhood. No one with the community's best interest at heart would propose it."
In a statement issued on Tuesday, CHA said in part, “We recognize that change is inevitable, but from the beginning the community has consistently maintained that the buildings proposed were too tall and that the population density would overwhelm the existing neighborhood. Fortis agreed to enter into discussions with the help of Councilperson Lander.
“Unfortunately, they have steadfastly refused to significantly lower the height or scale back the density of the plans. Instead of listening to the concerns of CHA, last week they actually increased the square footage of the ‘As-of-Right’ plan by adding 262,500 square feet, an increase of almost 40 percent, mostly in the form of student housing."
The CHA said, however, that they still “remain committed to the process organized by Councilman Brad Lander and hope to move forward in productive discussions with its new neighbor.”
The group said they would be rolling out a series of block meetings next week "in order to have meaningful conversations among our residents about the options before us."
CHA was one of six neighborhood associations that fought for years to save LICH, which was sold by the state for $240 million to Fortis in what many called a “rigged” process.
Fortis has unveiled a website with plan details and a survey designed to solicit support for the ULURP proposal.