Private Meetings on LICH Condo Proposals Examine Community Concerns

By Nikhita Venugopal | November 5, 2015 4:42pm
 A collage showing a comparison of the two latest renderings for the Long Island College Hospital site. On the left is the as-of-right plan. On the right is the proposed buildings if the site was rezoned.
A collage showing a comparison of the two latest renderings for the Long Island College Hospital site. On the left is the as-of-right plan. On the right is the proposed buildings if the site was rezoned.
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COBBLE HILL — As Cobble Hill braces to learn exactly what type of development will be built at the former site of the Long Island College Hospital, small groups of community leaders, stakeholders and elected officials have been meeting to "get all the information out on the table," City Councilman Brad Lander said Thursday.

"The community is trying to weigh between two bad choices," Lander told DNAinfo New York after one such session Thursday morning. "We wanted to drill down on some particular issues."

A reporter from DNAinfo was asked to leave the meeting and told it was closed to the press.

When a member of the public asked why the reporter was told to leave, officials responded that it had been previously agreed upon to hold the meetings without media present.

The formation of the working groups, announced in a press release this past summer, were described as "smaller, issue-specific meetings." The meetings were planned to discuss site-specific issues regarding the two proposals from Fortis Property Group, including a possible new school, retail and affordable housing, officials said. 

Fortis has proposed two plans for the site of the former hospital. One can be built without any special permissions — an "as-of-right" plan — and the other would require a property rezoning with necessary approvals from community members and the City Council. 

City Councilman Brad Lander said the goal of the working group meetings "has to been to get people all the information that we can" for locals to decide whether to support either of the plans. 

"Unfortunately I think we're at the point where the community working together has to make a choice between those two bad options," he said.

Last month, Fortis released a revised version of its plans, both of which would bring multi-story towers to the quaint Brownstone neighborhood. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated his office would support a rezoning of the site. 

The project has long been on the radar for de Blasio, a strong advocate of affordable housing who was arrested in 2013 while protesting the planned closure of the Long Island College Hospital.

Under the rezoning plan, Fortis has committed to building a public school, neighborhood retail and affordable housing, but the developer would almost double the amount of residential square-footage being constructed.

In the as-of-right plan, there would be no school, retail or afforable housing, and Fortis has suggested it may build a massive student dorm. 

"We have to make our best community decision with the information that we have," Lander said. That might involve the community supporting neither proposal and even pursuing legal action, he added. 

In the past month, Lander, the developer and the Cobble Hill Association have attended three meetings to discuss local concerns with the plans, like street-level retail and the proposed school.  

Residents who have an interest in these issues were asked to notify officials and were invited for the meetings, Lander said.

On Thursday morning, a meeting was held at the Cobble Hill Health Center to discuss affordable housing units that would be built if the site were rezoned.

Attendees included Lander, Fortis Property Group's Joel Kestenbaum and Terrence Storey, Ron Moelis from L+M Development Partners, which focuses on affordable housing, a representative for Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and members from the Cobble Hill Assocation, Carroll Gardens Association and Brooklyn Heights Association, and other local stakeholders.

When asked why press was not alowed to attend the meeting, Lander said he wanted community members "to be comfortable" asking questions. 

Fortis spokesman James Yolles said in a statement that the Thursday morning meeting included discussions on senior and workforce housing. 

"We have worked to refine our development plans based directly on community feedback solicited through Council Member Lander's working group process, and today provided another opportunity to listen and answer questions. We look forward to continuing that process over the coming weeks," he said. 

More working group sessions have not yet been scheduled, Lander said. A larger public meeting is expected to take place before Thanksgiving, he said

The Cobble Hill Association did not respond to request for comment.