Tensions at the Cobble Hill Association (CHA) have reached the boiling point just as the community group struggles with negotiations over the development of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site.
The target of the dissent is First VP Roy Sloane, who has been acting as president since Dave “Paco” Abraham moved out of town. (Sloane is barred from the presidency by virtue of having served two terms already.)
The neighborhood association, which fought the sale of LICH tooth and nail under Sloane’s leadership, is now torn over his strategy of engaging in dialogue with the likely developer, Fortis Property Group, to shape the development, rather than taking stronger legal steps.
On Wednesday 24 CHA members opposing Sloane sent out notice that a special meeting has been called to remove him from the position and elect officers to fill board vacancies, including president, treasurer and recording secretary. The meeting will be held at the Cobble Hill Health Center, 380 Henry St., on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m.
“The issue is about both who will lead the battle to limit development on the LICH site and how it will be conducted,” the dissenters said in a release. “Since Fortis announced its initial development proposals in mid-May 2015, the CHA has lost three of its seven board members, including its president. Current first vice president Roy Sloane, who has held leadership positions in the CHA for more than 35 years, was not eligible for a third term as president. Instead, he assumed the duties of president and blocked the election of a new president to fill the vacancy. He then rebuffed all efforts to expand the CHA’s leadership to include Cobble Hill residents with managerial, financial, legal or negotiating experience, deemed by many to be essential to wage the development battle.”
Focus on legal and economic implications
Some members of CHA say the ouster of Sloane has to take place to save the organization.
“There are people who were in the process of forming another organization — the Cobble Hill Civic Association — which would, obviously, be in competition with the Cobble Hill Association. This has to be forestalled, as there has to be a single voice representing our neighborhood,” said resident Laurie Mutchnik Maurer, a member of CHA.
“The reason for this is that the present leadership, specifically in the person of Roy Sloane, has real difficulties in working with anyone who disagrees with him and has cut them out of the process,” Maurer added.
Community resident Franklin Stone, former two term CHA president, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “Cobble Hill deserves the best leadership team it can muster for this important battle over the development of the LICH site.
“All we wanted was to supplement the CHA leadership with Cobble Hill residents who had managerial, financial, legal and media expertise,” Stone said. “Instead of welcoming the support, our first vice president, who was term limited from becoming president, assumed the duties of president, blocked the election of a new president to fill the vacancy and rejected any suggestion of shared leadership responsibility.”
New CHA member Buzz Doherty, a 20-year resident of Baltic Street, says he has been “surprised by the narrow, individualized approach Roy has taken in his interactions with the developers and local elected officials. My suggestions to Roy were that an analytically based approach to the economic and legal implications of the development should come first, before multiple meetings on design and architecture. He didn’t accept this point of view.
“This is an economic discussion, not a design discussion,” Doherty added. “As long as Fortis has not closed on the LICH property, there is time to have this type of engagement with the developers.”
But supporters point to Sloane’s decades-long work for the neighborhood, and say the schism relates more to personal enmities and old resentments.
“He’s been a tireless champion for the neighborhood,” said Jeff Strabone, a former president of CHA and longtime spokesperson. “People are panicking and going after the wrong targets. Replacing Roy midstream will weaken our neighborhood and strengthen the hand of the developer.
“Roy does excellent work,” Strabone said. “It’s a terrible idea for everyone to go crazy and shoot each other when we should be coming together.”
Attorney Jim Walden, hired by CHA’s executive board to explore the neighborhood’s legal options regarding the proposed LICH development, said, “I have seen Roy in action in a number of contentious issues and found him thoughtful, independent-minded, and effective. He was never trying to win a popularity contest, but was always trying to be a guardian of the community and faithful steward of the office.”
Sloan’s opponents are upset with the closure of the hospital and the impact of the coming development on their neighborhood, but also look decades into the past, where Sloane’s leadership on the 1980s land use agreement with LICH resulted in the swap of city owned parkland for LICH-owned parkland. (A parking garage for LICH was built on the former park, and in return LICH was responsible for the children’s playgrounds on Henry Street.)
Thirty years later, this swap “permits an increase in the allowable development on the site and reduces the protection of the parkland itself from development,” Sloan’s opponents said in their release.
“Who could have foreseen that all the property would be sold for development?” said one long-time CHA member, who did not want to be identified. She acknowledged that Sloane sometimes rubs people the wrong way, and that over the years disagreements have become personal.
“They say that he wants to make all the decisions and hold all the power. But when [CHA] asked other people to step up, no one would do it. I don’t know anyone who has put in as many hours as this guy has.”
Another long-time resident, who also did not want to be identified, said, “Roy is ‘the blind man in the dark room looking for a black cat which is not there,’ … because all those who can help him left the room unable to work with him. Unfortunately for him, they turned off the lights on their way out the door … and they took the cat with them!”
This resident told the Eagle, “We need to get the right team back in the room and Roy out…the community has deep pool of talent to form the team that can come to the table and fight for Cobble Hill; in truth there is a team ready to go.”
Supporters, however, worry that removing the long-time advocate from CHA’s leadership is the wrong move for Cobble Hill.
“Some people hold grudges from past battles,” Strabone said. To remove Sloane “decapitates Cobble Hill as a politically effective neighborhood.”
For his part, Sloane seems amenable to a change in leadership.
In a statement to the Eagle on Wednesday he said, “The LICH site redevelopment is the greatest single challenge Cobble Hill has faced in the 35 years I have served as a volunteer for this community. The unique engagement process, developed by our local elected officials and led by Councilmember Brad Lander, offers the community an opportunity to shape the Fortis ULURP proposal before it is certified, or opt for an as-of-right plan. Given this, the Cobble Hill Association Executive Board was unanimous in voting to support that process. I hope any new CHA leadership will continue to fight to preserve and protect the Cobble Hill Historic District, as well as address the needs of the greater community as a whole.”
Special Meeting of the Cobble Hill Association
Thursday, September 10th, 7 p.m.
Cobble Hill Health Center at 380 Henry Street
Dear Cobble Hill Residents,
Below is a Notice of a Special Meeting of the Cobble Hill Association. As indicated in the Notice, the subject of the meeting will be the proposed (1) removal of Roy Sloane as an officer of the Association and (2) election of officers to fill board vacancies, including the currently vacant President, Treasurer and Recording Secretary positions. The meeting will be held at the Cobble Hill Health Center, 380 Henry Street, on Thursday, September 10, at 7pm.
Although everyone is encouraged to attend this special meeting, in order to vote you must be a member in good standing of the Association, that is, you must maintain your primary residence or place of business within the boundaries of the Cobble Hill Historic District and you must have paid dues for the current fiscal year May 2015 – May 2016. You may join the Association and become a voting member at the following websites: https://www.nycharities.org/app/cha/ or http://cobblehillassociation.blogspot.com (click on Join in the upper right hand corner). Alternatively you may bring a completed membership form and check to the meeting itself. The $25 regular membership entitles each adult member of your family appearing in person to vote as a separate member. Proxy votes are not allowed.
Second Vice President, serving as Recording Secretary