LICH: Please tell me what you think

LICH: Please tell me what you think

As you know, Cobble Hill is faced with a painful choice -- between two wildly out-of-scale options -- over future development by the Fortis Property Group on the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site.

We've fought hard, together, over the last few months to try to make the situation better. The Cobble Hill Association, the other elected officials, and I have talked to hundreds of you, held meetings large and small, considered architectural alternatives and legal options, and pushed Fortis to make changes.

I'll be honest. We have not had much luck in persuading Fortis to listen to our community and reduce the massive size of their out-of-scale plans. We will keep pushing. But now, we are nearing a moment of decision.

So, I am very eager to hear what you think. I’m asking you to fill out the short web-form below to give me your opinion, in your own words. Even if you've already filled out the earlier Cobble Hill Association survey and/or the Fortis survey, attended meetings, or signed something else, we really need to hear your voice right at this moment. Please scroll down and take a minute to let me know what you think.

I won't go into all the history. You can read more about it here, but basically: When SUNY sold LICH off for parts, in a deeply flawed process, it did not include any requirements for height, density, urban design, affordability, or school seats (the only requirement was a 100,000 square foot health center to replace the hospital, which will be built in any case, and operated by NYU Langone). Under the current zoning rules, the developer is allowed to build out-of-scale residential buildings and college dorm-rooms without community review.

Fortis bought the LICH site from SUNY for $240 million (even though they were the third-highest scoring bidder, in the badly-flawed RFP process). They have now presented the community with two options, which you can see in much more detail on their website, Both of these options include buildings that are totally out-of-scale with the Cobble Hill community: 

  • "As-of-right" option: Fortis is allowed, under current zoning laws and without any additional discretionary public approvals or votes, to build hundreds of market-rate condos & college dorm-rooms in high-rise buildings. In this scenario, they have indicated they would build 528,935 square feet of market-rate residential & 262,555 square feet of college dorm-rooms (they added the "mega-dorm," which could be somewhere between 500-1000 students, in an unwelcome surprise move this fall). The tallest building would rise to 35 stories (434 feet) on Pacific Street, mid-block between Hicks & Henry. They would keep the current LICH playgrounds, but put the tallest building next to one of them, and build a 14-story building next to another, on the east side of Henry Street. The “as-of-right” option would not include any affordable housing, or a public school. 
  • Rezoning (aka "ULURP") option: Alternatively, Fortis has expressed interest in rezoning the site to allow them to build even more market-rate housing units (900,000 square feet). In this scenario, in exchange for the right to build 370,000 additional square feet of market-rate units, they have offered a set of benefits to the community: A somewhat better urban design, by locating the taller buildings toward the highway,stepping the heights down to the historic district, and not building new towers east of Henry Street. Affordable housingincluding senior housing (225,000 square feet). Space for a public school. Increasing the open space (by about 15%).

You can see more detail about the options Fortis is presenting -- including diagrams and renderings -- on their website.

I won't try to dress it up: neither of these is a good option. Both are wildly out-of-scale with the existing Cobble Hill neighborhood. The choice isn't which is "better" for Cobble Hill, so much as which is "less terrible."

Let me be very clear: I will oppose a rezoning if that is the consensus of the community. 

But we should be very clear-eyed about this. Fortis has indicated that if the community and the elected officials will not support a rezoning, they will proceed with their "as-of-right" option. The community can sue, seeking to block the "as-of-right" development. And we can look for other ways to fight it. But at some point, Fortis (or some developer) will be allowed to build something on the LICH site, and in all likelihood it will be vastly out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood. 

We don't know for certain whether they will actually build the "mega-dorm," but they would be allowed to do so under existing zoning laws, and Fortis has certainly given us reason to believe that they will do what is in their financial interest. If they build “as-of-right,” the proejct will not include affordable housing, or school seats, and they can design the project however they choose, without regard for neighborhood values.     

I certainly understand the desire not to choose between these bad options at all. Believe me, I share it. It makes us feel like we are "complicit" with Fortis, and handing them a victory. This feels like a "win/win" for Fortis (they make plenty of money, either way) and a "lose/lose" for the community (we already lost the hospital, and now we are losing the low-rise neighborhood).

But still: we should take a clear, hard look, talk to each other, and do our best to make the decision together about which option is less bad. Do we want to oppose the rezoning, reject their effort to add so much additional density, and live with "as-of-right" development? Or do we want to support a rezoning, and live with the additional density in exchange for a somewhat better urban design, affordable housing, and a school?

It's not an easy decision, and certainly not a joyful one. We’ve had a lot of dialogue already. I give the Cobble Hill Association and other neighbors a great deal of credit for all the time they've put in so far. CHA will be continuing that conversation with a series of block meetings, and in their Fall General Meeting on November 18th.  

For now, I'm asking you to fill out the web-form below by Nov. 13th, and let me know what you think (in your own words). I promise to read every word (and might call you if I have follow-up questions), and to heed community consensus on this issue.  

I wish we had better choices. Together, we have fought, rallied, researched, strategized, and attended meetings large & small looking for better choices. I'm sorry that we haven't yet been able to make that happen. We will keep working on it. 

What I am promising is that I'll make my choice based on what you and your neighbors tell me.

Thanks, as always, for your time and input.



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