By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After a wrenching multi-year legal battle and amid ongoing community discontent, Fortis Property Group has officially closed on the site of Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
"Today's closing marks an important step forward,” Fortis spokesperson James Yolles told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday.
“We look forward to refining our redevelopment plans over the next couple of months through our work with Councilmember Lander, other local elected officials and stakeholders, and the broader community," Yolles said.
The closing is not unexpected. Officials and community groups have been proceeding with talks with Fortis in an attempt to reach some accommodation with the developer over the height and density of the development, which threatens to overwhelm the surrounding low-rise neighborhood of Cobble Hill.
The sale and development battle has taken a toll on the neighborhood, however, even before one hospital building is torn down.
At community meetings with Fortis over the summer, many in attendance made it clear they were still seething about the loss of their historic hospital.
“Have you considered the impact all these people will have on this sleepy little neighborhood?” asked one Cobble Hill resident. “We’re already inundated with construction and traffic. This is going to break the community.”
Tensions at the Cobble Hill Association (CHA) reached the boiling point last week after dissidents threatened to dump CHA’s longtime leader Roy Sloane in a special election on Sept. 10.
On Wednesday Sloane tendered his resignation as first vice-president. Sloane has served on the CHA board almost continuously since 1980, but a breakaway group of CHA members was unhappy with his strategy of engaging in dialogue with Fortis to shape the coming development, rather than taking stronger legal steps.
In his letter of resignation Sloane said the engagement process he backed, led by Councilmember Brad Lander, offered the community the chance to “pre-shape both the ULURP and as-of-right options.”
“It is my sincere hope that the new leadership team will be successful in the fight for the best possible outcome for Cobble Hill and the greater community, too,” Sloane said. “The danger of an out-of-scale skyscraper district in our low rise, historic community is very real – but, for me, the greatest tragedy would be for the Fortis development to leave a torn and divided community in its wake.”
Skyscrapers in Cobble Hill
SUNY Downstate Medical Center (SUNY Downstate), submitted a closure plan for LICH in July 2013, which was quickly approved by the state Department of Health.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was Public Advocate at that time, successfully petitioned Supreme Court Justice Johnny L. Baynes for a Temporary Restraining Order blocking LICH’s immediate closure, joining a legal battle begun by doctors, nurses and other health care workers, and later joined by seven community groups.
A legal agreement led to a contentious Request for Proposals (RFP) process overseen by SUNY. After SUNY eliminated the top two bidders, Fortis was selected in October 2014 to purchase the LICH campus for $240 million.
As part of the deal, NYU Langone will be providing a 108,000 square-foot walk-in Emergency Department / ambulatory care clinic in a new five-story building to be constructed at 70 Atlantic Ave. at the corner of Hicks Street (currently the site of the 12-story Fuller Pavilion at 339 Hicks Street). The clinic is expected to open in 2018.
Advocates call the facility inadequate and point to overcrowded ERs across Brooklyn since the closure of LICH.
Fortis has presented two versions of its development plans. Both would bring 40-plus story skyscrapers to low-rise Cobble Hill.
The “as-of-right” option, which does not require public approvals, would include about 400 market-rate residential units. The rezoning or “ULURP” option would include 800-plus units along with affordable housing, space for a public school, increased park space and retail. A rezoning would require city review.
Elected officials say both of the proposed options present development that is dramatically out-of-scale with the adjacent Cobble Hill Historic District, which has a height limit of 50 feet.
CHA asks community members to come out to the Sept. 10 meeting at 7 p.m. to elect a new board and join committees to work on the issue. The meeting will be held at the Cobble Hill Health Center, 380 Henry St.
Insiders say the new board will be less likely to work collaboratively with Fortis, and more likely to consider further legal options.