What’s next for the LICH site?
INTRODUCTION l HOW WE GOT HERE
Together with so many of you, I fought hard against the closure and sell-off of Long Island College Hospital. We protested together in snow, heat, and rain, took over SUNY board meetings, engaged in civil disobedience, went to court to block a process that was rife with flaws and appeared rigged, and appealed over-and-over to Governor Cuomo.
Unfortunately, we were not able to block the sale. Governor Cuomo, the NYS Department of Health, and SUNY turned their backs on our neighborhood. They closed the hospital, and sold the site for the most money they could, without regard for our neighborhood’s needs.
But Cobble Hill did come together as a united community – and we are going to need that unity even more in the days ahead.
As you have no-doubt heard, the Fortis Development Group has begun discussions with Cobble Hill residents about their plans for residential development on the LICH site.
The proposals are deeply disturbing to most neighbors, and for good reason: they are dramatically out-of-scale with the Cobble Hill community. In a historic, brownstone neighborhood with a 50-foot height limit, Fortis is proposing to build new high-rises, including a 40+ story tower.
This is going to be a tough fight. Because of the way SUNY sold the site to Fortis, many of the rules of good community planning don’t apply. SUNY could, at least, have taken our community’s needs into account – by setting a reasonable height limit, requiring thoughtful urban design, and mandating inclusion of affordable housing and a new school. But because they did not, we may be facing a “lesser of evils” situation, where there is not a great option.
Still, I believe that if the Cobble Hill community looks at the situation squarely, evaluates all the options, and sticks together, we can make it better. You can count on me to continue to continue to stand with the community.
Because of the site’s pre-existing zoning, Fortis can build “as-of-right,” without any discretionary public approvals. At the Cobble Hill Association’s Spring Meeting on May 18, Fortis presented an “as-of-right” option that would include about 400 market-rate units – beginning with a 44-story tower on Pacific Street (between Henry & Hicks), with additional 10 to 20-story buildings proposed for the site of the parking garage, the current ER, and around the LICH park on the east side of Henry Street (between Pacific and Amity).
Fortis also expressed interest in proposing a rezoning (sometimes called the “ULURP” option) that would double the number of residential units, and include affordable housing units and space for a public school. This option involves taller towers of 20, 30 and 40 stories nearer to the BQE, and lower-rise buildings along the edge of the Cobble Hill Historic District.
Both of these options would include a new health facility, operated by NYU Langone, at the corner of Atlantic and Hicks – the one thing that was required by SUNY, as a result of our lawsuits, protests, and organizing.
Now, the community needs to decide how to respond.
Community groups can sue, seeking to block or delay the project. There are certainly good reasons for questioning the legitimacy of the process that got us here, and exploring whether there are any legal remedies. But at some point Fortis will likely be able to build a development that is dramatically out-of-scale with the surrounding area.
This does not mean, however, that Cobble Hill must accept a rezoning if it does not meet the needs of the community and gain genuine community support.
It is true, of course, that affordable housing and public schools are important for Brooklyn’s future. But, given that Cobble Hill has already been forced to accept the loss of its hospital for a dramatically out-of-scale development, and is already facing a huge increase in residential units in towers that it did not seek, I do not believe we have an obligation to support a rezoning for even more development here.
What I do believe is this: We should have a serious dialogue about the options, and work together to build consensus in the community. So in the coming weeks and months, I will work closely with Cobble Hill residents to understand the situation, explore options, and talk about what’s best – or, at least what is least bad, and how we can make it somewhat better.
In a difficult situation, I will do my very best to represent you. I do not have a position yet on what should happen here. If Cobble Hill can build a consensus for what we should do, I pledge to fight for it as effectively as I can.
I’m starting by sharing some background on my website, with more detail on how we got here, what is allowed as-of-right (with a detailed presentation prepared by the City Council’s Land Use Division), and what we know about Fortis’ proposals.
I’ve begun talking already with the Cobble Hill Association, with other elected officials (including Congresswoman Velázquez, Borough President Adams, State Senator Squadron, Assembly Member Simon, and Council Members Levin & Menchaca), with the Department of City Planning, with Community Board 6 members, with neighbors, parents, merchants, and many more.
I’m eager to go further. I will continue to be in close dialogue with the Cobble Hill Association, and other local groups. And, this summer, I’ll be holding a series of “house meetings” with community residents. If you are interested in hosting or attending one, please email lander [at] council [dot] nyc [dot] gov or call 718-499-1090.
Here’s what I know for sure: Cobble Hill is a great community because its residents have worked together over many years – to strengthen its parks, built environment, and schools, make its streets safer, and much more. While the pressures of out-of-scale real estate development are strong, I believe that the power of an organized community can be stronger still. Working together, we’ll make sure that Cobble Hill remains a great community in the years to come.