By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Rep. Nydia Velazquez told the Brooklyn Heights Association's 103rd annual meeting on Monday that the planned closings of both Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and the Brooklyn Heights public library branch were "scary."
“Long Island College Hospital and the library really stand for what the community is in need of,” Velazquez (D-Brooklyn Heights and Sunset Park) told about 250 people in the auditorium of St. Francis College on Remsen Street. "The fact that both are falling at once is scary.”
Velazquez offered a degree of comfort to those worried by the closing of LICH, saying that she and other elected officials had been promised by SUNY Chairman Carl McCall that a plan would be created to deal with the area’s health care needs.
While the audience had LICH and library matters on their minds, Velazquez's address dealt mainly with the federal government's role in revitalizing the Brooklyn waterfront. BHA President Jane McGroarty used the event to also review a variety of other issues facing Heights residents and to present community service awards.
McGroarty insisted that it was a "myth" that Heights residents were not using LICH. "It's spin that's not supported by the facts," she said.
Prompted by a question from LICH nurse and area resident Maribel Agosto, Velazquez said that LICH needed a better marketing plan and that as many as 50 percent of its beds were empty.
LICH psychiatric nurse Louis Coles, also an area resident, countered, “We have been at 95 percent capacity for years. Many of the beds have been turned into offices and clinics, and they pretend we are not carrying our weight.”
McGroarty pointed out that at last year's BHA meeting, soon after LICH affiliated with SUNY Downstate Medical Center, SUNY received a BHA Community Service Award. She pointed out that two LICH executives who accepted the award on SUNY's behalf had since been dismissed, and alleged that “misdeeds” had taken place at the Cobble Hill medical center.
McGroarty complained that commercial interests were encroaching on the overall interests of the community, and that the maximization of profits was being sought at the expense of important community resources, specifically the hospital and library.
The fate of the Brooklyn Heights and Business Library branches, which are in the same building, received less attention at the meeting than LICH closing. McGroarty called the planned sale of the library site and its eventual relocation a "troubling event," but explained that the facility was in need of several millions of dollars of repairs.
The city plans to sell the site to a developer that will demolish the existing building and replace it with a highrise that will house a reduced-size Brooklyn Heights branch. The Business Library would be relocated to the main library branch at Grand Army Plaza.
Audience members also raised questions about the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service, with Velazquez explaining that its future — including Saturday mail delivery — is "an open question" and is part of ongoing budget talks.
Voting rights were brought up as well, but Velazquez explained that a federal law protecting rights was unlikely given the current political atmosphere.
Other topics discussed included praise for the 84th Precinct, which cracked a spree of five burglaries. All five apartments had signs of unforced entry, prompting McGroarty to remind the audience to lock their doors and windows.
Henrik Krogius, the recently retired editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press, was acknowledged as well. McGroarty said, "Thank you, Henrik, you're going to be missed."
The city's Bike Share program, which was supposed to have been launched last July but was delayed until August before Hurricane Sandy further damaged equipment, is now slated to begin in May. McGroarty said that while the BHA had problems with some of the initially proposed Bike Share locations in the Heights, the organization was generally supportive.
A topic discussed at least year’s meeting, a proposed residential parking permit program, has “come to a grinding halt.” The BHA was hoping the area surrounding the Barclays Center would be a part of a pilot program. However, even the pilot program has been canceled.
McGroarty also brought up the famed Bossert Hotel, which was sold in 2012 by the Watchtower and is set to be renovated. She explained that there would be valet parking, and that amplified music for a rooftop lounge would be restricted to inside the building rather than the terrace. The building, which is being transformed into a boutique hotel with about 300 rooms, is expected to open this summer.
These Community Service Awards were given out as well:
• Mimi and Richard Somerby received an award for Outstanding Renovation of 55 Middagh St.
• Thomas Walsh, NYC Sanitation Department Superintendent for Brooklyn’s Second District, received an award for Outstanding Community Service.
• The PTA of P.S. 8 won for Outstanding Community Service for its part in helping to open a P.S. 8 middle school.
• Andrea Mocci and Giovanna Fadda, of the River Deli, were cited for Outstanding Block Revitalization on Columbia Street in Willowtown.
• Leaders of Brooklyn Bridge Park were recognized for Outstanding Contribution to the Community, as the BHA cheered the newly opened Pier 5.