Cobble Hill community doesn’t support rezoning, says CHA
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
"The community does not support this ULURP proposal— and neither do I," said Councilmember Brad Lander at Thursday night’s fall meeting of the Cobble Hill Association (CHA).
The crowded auditorium at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill erupted in applause as Lander said he would work against developer Fortis’ higher-density ULURP (Unified Land Use Review Procedure) option for the development of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site.
The ULURP version of the plan is one of two options presented by Fortis. Fortis has been heavily promoting the ULURP version, which would require rezoning.
Both plans include soaring towers and a new NYU medical facility with a stand-alone ER, but no hospital beds.
But the ULURP plan, which requires community review, would entail 43 percent more development in total than the as-of-right plan. As inducements, it would include senior and affordable housing, more park space and a public school.
The as-of-right plan, which does not require review, is less dense but has been upped to include student housing that could hold as many as 800 students.
Lander said he made his decision after seeing the results of a survey and hearing the outcome of 20 small block meetings coordinated by CHA.
“I had held off on expressing my opinion, I wanted to hear from the neighborhood,” Lander told the crowd. “The voice of the community is clear.”
He warned that this was just the beginning of the fight against Fortis’ preferred option.
“The community needs to get ready. Fortis may go ahead and build its as-of-right option, and Cobble Hill may have to begin ‘suiting up.’ Or, Fortis may try to push the ULURP plan through the City Council,” Lander said.
Officials stick together
Lander was backed in his decision by fellow area officials Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, state Senator Daniel Squadron and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
Squadron lauded Lander’s decision. “There was an assumption there was going to be some rezoning, terrible for Cobble Hill, but some rezoning,” Squadron said. Lander’s rejection of the ULURP plan would have been seen as “a shocker” just a few months ago, he added.
“I want you to know I’m there, we’re all there 100 percent,” Squadron said to applause. He said the community needed to stay deeply involved through the process.
Simon said she was “delighted to see everyone together on this.”
“The as-of-right plan doesn’t give any great confidence” either, she said. “We need to start planning proactively on this.”
Lander: Decision reflects community consensus
Laner said his survey showed that those closest to the LICH site – north of Congress Street – were most universally opposed to the higher density plan, while those living farther away might be more interested in a perceived benefit, such as a school. Between a quarter and a third of Cobble Hill residents oppose both options, Lander said.
But CHA First Vice President Buzz Doherty said that following the 20 block meetings, it became clear there was “a clear consensus” in Cobble Hill that the redevelopment plans were unacceptable and needed to be significantly downscaled to win local approval.
Residents went through the proposals in great detail at the meetings and there was “unanimity,” Doherty said. Residents are “unwilling to support the rezoning plan as proposed,” he said.
A spokesperson for Fortis disagreed with this assessment of neighborhood sentiment. He told the Brooklyn Eagle late Thursday, "More than 1,300 neighborhood residents told us over the past three weeks that they support our rezoning plan because they believe a new public school, affordable housing and increased park space are top priorities for the neighborhood. Unfortunately tonight's meeting was not reflective of broader community sentiment, especially among current and future public school parents."
CHA, however, says that many residents had inadvertently signed onto a PR campaign organized by Hilltop Public Solutions, the PR firm representing Fortis. According to the Cobble Hill Association, Hilltop’s campaigners “are collecting and asking residents' opinions on schooling and playgrounds to forward to New York City Councilmember Brad Lander. What is not stressed by these campaigners is that both redevelopment plans will place high-rise tower complexes over 35 stories high in our low-rise historic neighborhood.”
On Thursday, a Fortis spokesperson disputed this representation of Hilltop’s campaign. He sent the Brooklyn Eagle a copy of a card distributed to residents of Cobble Hill which clearly shows the high-rises proposed under the ULURP version of the proposal. (A photo of this card can be seen below this story.)
An attendee of Thursday’s meeting commented on Facebook that Rebecca Katz, a member of the Hilltop team, was in attendance at the meeting. Katz most recently served as special adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, helping manage “long-term media planning and outreach.”
CHA President Laurel Burr and Dohery urged people to sign a petition addressed to de Blasio, asking him to “work with us and Fortis to deliver a responsible, creative, respectful plan that balances the safety and aesthetics of our low-rise historic neighborhood with the imperatives of growth and development.”
The petition adds, “In short, Mayor de Blasio, we want you to stand with us – We, the People – and not with developers.”
Updated at 9:55 p.m. on Nov. 19 to clarify that material distributed to residents of Cobble Hill by a PR firm hired by Fortis included a photo of the high-rises proposed by the ULURP version of the proposal.