How we got here

How we got here


How did end we up here?

When New York City was comprehensively rezoned in 1961, Cobble Hill was mapped “R6,” along with most of Brownstone Brooklyn. You can find a description of the R6 zoning district on the Department of City Planning’s website here. You will see that it promotes the “tower in the park” style of urban development, prevalent in the 1960s and into the 1970s, which allows developers to construct very tall buildings if they have large amounts of land for open space.

In order to keep heights in scale with the existing context, Cobble Hill residents organized to win the “Cobble Hill Historic District” (adopted in 1969), which established a 50-foot height limit. You can find a map of the limited height district here, delineated by the shaded area and labeled “LH-1.”

However, that limited height district did not include LICH, which was left with some flexibility to grow – on the assumption, of course, that it would be a hospital, and the community’s flexibility would help achieve the genuine public purpose of supporting medical services. No one would have imagined that, 45 years later, this flexibility would be used for 40-story luxury housing.

Over the years, Cobble Hill residents negotiated with LICH on various hospital-related projects, such as the construction of the parking garage – which resulted in the deed restriction that protects the parks on the LICH campus, which must be maintained as-is.

The Sale of LICH

Many of us fought against the sale of LICH. I still believe that, if Governor Cuomo, the NYS Department of Health, and SUNY had worked with us, we could have found a smart way to save the hospital. Unfortunately, the Governor and DOH turned a deaf ear to our pleas.

As it became clear in 2013 that LICH might be sold, I led an effort of the elected officials to petition the Bloomberg Administration to extend the 50-foot height limit over the LICH campus. Together with Borough President Markowitz, Senators Squadron & Montgomery, Assemblywoman Millman, and Councilmember Levin, I asked Mayor Bloomberg to either extend the Cobble Hill Historic District or apply “contextual zoning” (i.e. zoning district R6A or R7A) that could have imposed a 60’ or 70’ height limit. 

Unfortunately, the Bloomberg Administration rejected our proposal. A rezoning or historic district of this type, alas, can only be brought by the property owner or the mayorally-controlled Department of City Planning; it cannot be initiated by the City Council.

And so SUNY was allowed to put the LICH site up for auction, with the “R6” zoning in place.

I won’t rehearse the saga of the bidding process for the LICH site, but it was fraught with problems. Bidders were required to include a “minimum bid” of at least $210 million, and most of the “points” in the RFP went for offering the largest purchase price. Ultimately, the process ended with the property being awarded to Fortis Development Group (as many suspected it would, even though they were 3rd place on the initial bidders list). Fortis is paying $240 million for the site.

While they have not yet closed on the property (the closing was scheduled to have occurred on April 30th, but has been delayed for unspecified reasons), they told residents at the CHA meeting that they expect to close on the majority of the LICH properties within the next month.

The Health Care Facility

As a result of litigation brought by community organizations, SUNY did require that the bidders include a health-care facility (not an in-patient hospital). Fortis teamed up with NYU Langone, which is now operating a “freestanding emergency room” (i.e. one without any hospital beds where patients can be admitted) at LICH.

NYU Langone will build, own, and operate a 4-story, 125,000 square foot facility at the corner of Hicks and Atlantic, which is schedule to open in 2018. You can read more about it here.  According to NYU Langone’s website:

"Once fully operational, it will be staffed by more than 400 clinicians and support personnel, including some 70 physicians. In addition to including a permanent, free-standing emergency department (NYU Langone-Cobble Hill), the facility will include a surgical suite for outpatient procedures; a broad spectrum of primary and specialty care practices; a full-service satellite of NYU Langone’s Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, including an infusion center and a clinical pharmacy; an on-site clinical laboratory and pathology team; and comprehensive imaging services."

Under the terms of the RFP, Fortis cannot demolish the existing building where the emergency room is located (the “Polak Pavilion”) until the new facility opens. The new facility will be built regardless of the other decisions/proposals outlined below.

SUNY could have easily agreed to place restrictions on the property as part of the RFP. They are a public agency, after all, and it would have been appropriate for them to issue an RFP that was consistent with community goals. They could have set reasonable height limits, and prioritized a thoughtful urban design. They could have mandated that a developer include a public school (in recognition that a growing residential community needs more schools, and that our community’s school are already overcrowded). They could easily have required affordable housing, without any additional increases in density, beyond what is allowed by the “as-of-right” zoning.

But those requirements would have decreased the sales price – so SUNY included none of them.

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