By Claude Scales
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Roughly 100 Cobble Hill residents gathered at the Cobble Hill Health Center Tuesday night for a meeting called by the Cobble Hill Association (CHA) to discuss the plans revealed to date by Fortis Property Group for the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site.
CHA President Roy Sloane opened the meeting by saying its purpose was to get “community consensus” concerning the Fortis proposals, and that what was needed was information on a block-by-block basis about the impacts the proposals would have. He urged those attending to go to their neighbors and ask how they believe the plans will affect them either negatively or positively.
Sloane then gave a presentation with visuals of the plans as presented by Fortis to date. The first is the plan for what could, given applicable zoning restrictions, be built “as of right.” This includes a 44-story tower, several smaller buildings and a large area to be used for open air parking.
Sloane said this plan was obviously designed to “scare” the community and thus encourage support for Fortis’ “preferred” plan, which would require zoning changes that could only be approved after going through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
Sloane said Fortis’ “as of right” proposal was not the only plan Fortis could execute on the site as of right. Rather, it was a worst case scenario.
An attendee suggested that the community could “play chicken” with Fortis by refusing to discuss or support the ULURP proposal, leaving the developer to try to build as of right while community members bring pressure on the city and state.
Jerry Armer, former chairman of Community Board 6, pointed out that Fortis could proceed with ULURP with or without community support. He also said the city could proceed with its own ULURP plan, which would “probably be very similar to what Fortis wants.”
Richard Bearak, director of Land Use in the office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, outlined the procedure under ULURP, which would involve the local Community Board, the City’s Planning Department, the mayor and the City Council. The Landmarks Preservation Commission would not be involved because the LICH site is not landmarked.
There was some discussion of strategy regarding local elected officials. Sloane said City Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents Cobble Hill, had promised to “support whatever decision the community makes” concerning the project. Rebecca Johnson later said Lander had told her he would vote in accordance with the community’s wishes, but that the Council as a whole was likely to vote otherwise.
As to the likelihood of mayoral support, Laurie Maurer said she believes Mayor Bill de Blasio “hates Cobble Hill” because the community forced a developer to abandon its effort to build a structure on Atlantic Avenue that would have violated the Historic District’s 50-foot height restriction — a plan that de Blasio, then representing the community in the City Council, had initially supported. It was suggested that the only possible hope for political support lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Johnson said she had noticed that stories about the Fortis plans on sites like Curbed and Gothamist had drawn comments characterizing opponents of the Fortis plans as “rich brownstone owners” and the like.
Another attendee noted that people were sometimes paid, presumably by developers or their agents, to post such comments. Katie Clifford noted that many Cobble Hill residents aren’t rich, but are longtime residents who bought their houses when prices were low. Clifford said the basic matter at stake was “livability.”
There was discussion of the “amenities” included in Fortis’ ULURP proposal, which include a school, an expanded park on the east side of Henry Street and an affordable housing component. One attendee noted that the proposed school site was at a very busy intersection — Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street — and close to the BQE off-ramp.
When asked what kind of school was proposed, Sloane said he didn’t know; he stressed that there’s much that needs to be disclosed by Fortis and other interested parties, and one of the purposes of the meeting was to determine what further information was needed.
It was noted that Fortis has yet to close on its acquisition of the site. Stuart Klein, Esq., a real estate attorney who is advising CHA, said it is “a very complicated closing.”
When asked if there was any way to delay the closing, Klein said “the powers that be” would not disclose the details of the contract. An attendee noted that LICH had a nuclear medicine facility on the site, and that there might be some residual contamination. Bearak said potential lenders to Fortis might be interested in this. Klein said he assumed that on a deal of this size, environmental reviews would be required prior to closing, but again noted that contract details aren’t available.
At the close of the meeting, it was agreed that committees would be formed to address legal and environmental issues, as well as publicity, including social media and fundraising. Sloane also encouraged all attendees to respond to the survey on the CHA website.