A somber crowd hears Fortis proposals
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
At a standing-room-only meeting Thursday night, hundreds of unhappy Cobble Hill community members came together with the team planning to redevelop Long Island College Hospital (LICH), in an effort to influence the project ahead of a potential ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process.
Despite being dismayed over the coming high-rises and thousands of new residents, Cobble Hill Association (CHA) representatives said they “endorsed the constructive engagement process” proposed by Councilmember Brad Lander, and agreed to work with developer Fortis Property Group and architect FXFOWLE to achieve the best possible outcome.
But CHA President Roy Sloane added, “Many in Cobble Hill feel that we are now being penalized for our prior generosity to LICH,” noting that the community had made sacrifices by allowing LICH to combine lots, built higher and give up a park so LICH could have a parking garage.
Local officials including Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin and State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, along with Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman, kicked off the night, explaining that the process would include future meetings on specific topics, such as schools that are already overcrowded.
Lander said that he believed the community could have a “significant impact” on the development.
Hammerman said the night was part of “an experimental planning process” that could potentially influence the project – though nothing is guaranteed.
Two choices, says developer
Architect Dan Kaplan of FXFOWLE presented an update of the proposal first introduced in Cobble Hill in May.
“There are two choices on the table,” Kaplan said. As-of-right, Fortis can build from 400 to 600 units, including a 44-story building on Pacific Street between Hicks and Henry streets, a 19-story building and two 14-story buildings. An as-of-right development does not require public hearings or approvals by the city.
The as-of-right version “hamstrings” the developer because he can’t "move area around," Kaplan said.
Kaplan spent far more time presenting the ULURP version of the proposal, which would allow for 800 to 1,100 units, with 20 percent of these affordable. This plan would include a 40-story tower, 30-story tower, 20-story tower and a 16-story tower. The ULURP version also includes a public school and retail along Pacific Street.
Under the ULURP plan, Kaplan said, the building density would step down from the more commercial northwest corner of the LICH campus at Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street to the more residential southeast section.
Kaplan also reviewed concerns the developers had heard since the May meeting. These included density and height, the placement of the public school at the high-traffic garage site on Hicks Street, the scale and character of the retail planned for Pacific Street, retaining the character of the low-rise historic district, parking, traffic and affordable housing.
Height and density were of the most concern, Kaplan said. But he didn’t try to sugar-coat the issue. “There is going to be density.”
He said that Fortis is considering moving the proposed public school to Henry and Pacific Street, a less congested area. Fortis is also considering moving the retail from Pacific Street to two different corners of Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street.
‘Doesn’t look like Cobble Hill’
CHA member Laurie Maurer thanked Fortis for their “thoughtful attention to our guidelines,” but said that because of the project’s height and scale, “many people feel it doesn’t look or feel like Cobble Hill.”
"Almost all the members of the community think that the heights of the tallest structures are at least twice as high as they expected and as they thought it should be," she said.
Many residents objected to placing retail on Pacific Street, Maurer reported, noting that CHA has been trying to “economically activate Atlantic Avenue for years through master plans, traffic studies, gateway studies” and more. “We’re committed to a vibrant shopping strip along Atlantic Avenue,” she said.
On the other hand, Cobble Hill residents supported the affordable housing aspect of the plan. “It’s the social responsibility of the whole city. No one’s spoken against it,” she said.
“If we had to choose today, CHA would have no choice but to opt for the as-of-right plan proposed by Fortis over the ULURP plan because it brings a significantly smaller number of new residents into our already stressed-out neighborhoods,” Sloane said.
Housing on Pier 6, in addition to One Brooklyn Bridge Park and Pierhouse, could increase the number of new residents in the area by 5,000, he said – the equivalent of adding a new community the size of Boerum Hill in a small corner of Cobble Hill.
“Yet planning for schools, transportation, police and other basic services appears to be lagging far behind,” Sloane said.
Q & A
Councilmembers Lander and Levin and Assemblymember Simon moderated a Q&A session, answering questions ranging from the height of the buildings to affordable housing to zoning.
Lander ruled out retroactively rezoning the area; Kaplan said that Fortis was considering senior housing as part of the affordable mix.
Some questioned how Fortis planned to handle the additional strain on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, traffic, sewage, water and public transportation.
Fortis Senior VP Akiva Kobre said infrastructure is provided by the city, not the developer.
“The city determines the impact on the infrastructure as part of the ULURP process,” he said.
Surprising many in the crowd, Fortis representatives allowed that they had yet to close on the LICH site – leading one woman in the audience to say, “We have four buildings there. Turn it all into affordable housing. A public site should have been used for the public’s interest.”
A Fortis spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday that Fortis expected to close on the site in August.
A number of those who attended were not happy with rolling along with the community discussion.
“We’re not sold on this,” said George Sanchez, a resident of Pacific Street. “This mockery of ‘let’s have a community discussion’ when we’ve been robbed of a hospital, and ‘which poison do you want to die from?’ I don’t want either one of the poisons.”
“These meetings are set up as if there is a given that we’ve all agreed that we’re going to go along with this,” Sanchez said. “The way the hospital was sold by the state and the governor is something that we haven’t adequately reviewed. What happened here? It happened behind closed doors. In the free-market society that we live in, those things can be questioned.
“There are other members of the community here who are really outraged, who don’t accept that there’s going to be a 20-story building, let alone a 40-story building,” Sanchez said. “Why are we allowing developers to run the narrative?”
He added, “De Blasio is complicit. Where has he been? Why isn’t he here tonight?”
After the meeting, a Fortis spokesperson said in a statement, "Tonight was about sharing our preliminary vision, listening to feedback, and approaching this process thoughtfully and with an open mind. Discussions like this will allow us to incorporate ideas into our rezoning plan that respond to local and citywide needs. We look forward to continuing conversations with the community on topics like infrastructure, affordable housing, space for a public school, improved park space, and contextual design."