Unhappiness with coming density in Cobble Hill
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Developer Fortis Property Group presented its first look at plans for the site of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH) at a standing-room-only meeting of the Cobble Hill Association (CHA) on Monday.
Dave ‘Paco’ Abraham, president of CHA, worked to keep things civil as many in attendance made it clear they were still seething about the loss of their historic hospital after a wrenching two-year battle.
CHA’s development guidelines, presented by CHA member Laurie Maurer, urge that planning be done comprehensively on the massive development site, which includes 20 former LICH owned properties bounded by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Atlantic Avenue, Clinton Street and Congress Street. The guidelines set forth a number of general principles, including contextual construction on property adjacent to designated landmarked areas with a 50-foot height limit; elimination of aerial skywalks; and no glass facades.
Fortis’ plans adhere to several of these concerns, but the developers emphasized that “bulk” would be inescapable.
Ron Moelis, co-founder of Fortis partner L+M Development Partners, told the restive crowd, “The state decided to close the hospital. They did it in a way that might not have been acceptable, we understand. We have to do responsible design.” He said he hoped that the companies would be engaging in a conversation with the community to make it a positive for the neighborhood.
Fortis presented two versions of their master plan. In the first, in which Fortis would be able to build “as-of-right” with no ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) review process, tall towers are envisioned, with a 44-story tower on Pacific Street between Henry and Hicks, a 19-story tower on Hicks between Pacific and Amity, and a 14-story building at the site of the current parking garage on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street.
As groans rang out from the audience members, Dan Kaplan of the architecture firm FXFOWLE said, “We don’t like the as-of-right scheme and probably you don’t either.”
By going through the ULURP process, which would double the amount of development allowed compared to as-of-right, the design would be more contextual, pushing the higher towers to the west side of the site, he said.
“This is where we put a lot of the bulk,” he said, as several audience members called out, “We don’t want the bulk!”
The ULURP proposal includes a 40-story tower at the current parking garage site, 20- and 30-story towers on Hicks between Pacific and Amity, a 16-story tower on Pacific Street, seven townhouses along the south side of Amity Street, and a six-story addition atop the H-shaped hospital building. The landmarked Polhemus Building would be revamped for residential use. Kaplan said a school on the ground floor of the garage site is also being considered.
A shopping street would be created on pedestrian-only Pacific Street. The rendering showing the crowded, upscale shopping street drew hisses from the crowd.
The ULURP proposal would also include 20 percent affordable housing, he said. In total, the project includes 892,000 square feet of market-rate housing (600 units), and 223,000 square feet of affordable housing (220 units). There will also be 450 parking spaces.
The plans call for “consolidating and expanding” the open space, he said, resulting in 27,850 square feet of park space.
Many were surprised to hear that Fortis hasn’t yet closed on the site. “We’ll close with SUNY in a matter of weeks, months, very soon,” a Fortis representative said.
Next steps include setting up a work group with the community to work through issues of scale and design.
The community saw a number of problems with the development.
“There are 2,000 people in a 40-story building. What are you doing about infrastructure?” asked one attendee.
Others questioned the wisdom of putting a school near a busy onramp to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
“We want to work with the community to place the school in a location that works,” Kaplan said.
“We never see the high rise towers in your rendering. They’re hiding behind trees!” one woman said. “There’s no place for children to run around,” she added.
“Have you considered the impact all these people will have on this sleepy little neighborhood?” said another. “We’re already inundated with construction and traffic. This is going to break the community.”
"This is going to be a war," a man said. "Eighty percent of the people in this room are attorneys and they will be all up in your a**."
Attendees asked Councilmember Brad Lander if it was possible to halt the development. “A full-service hospital was taken out from under Cobble Hill by the governor, SUNY and the [state] Department of Health,” he said. “It was replaced by a much smaller medical facility and the loss of the low-rise neighborhood that is Cobble Hill and its 50-foot historic district. You'd be fools not to be very angry about what's happened to Cobble Hill.”
While it would be difficult to fight Fortis’ as-of-right plan, “the ULURP proposal doesn’t go through unless we approve it,” Lander said.
While most ULURP proposals “get to yes,” he said, “I don’t feel any pressure to vote yes if the community doesn’t want the additional square footage the ULURP brings.”
A Fortis spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday, “Last night’s CHA meeting was a first step in establishing a productive community dialogue about the redevelopment of the former LICH site. Unlike what we're allowed to build as-of-right, our preliminary rezoning proposal includes a contextual design in line with needs we've heard expressed through local stakeholders: affordable housing, more public park space, potential for a public school, and continuous street walls. The former LICH site is, quite understandably, the source of much frustration among local residents. We’re eager to continue working with them to make our plan as good as it can be for the site and the neighborhood."
The meeting was held at the Cobble Hill Health Center.
Check back for updates.