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Councilman Lander Opposes De Blasio-Supported Plan to Rezone LICH Site

By Nikhita Venugopal | November 19, 2015 11:09am
 City Councilman Brad Lander came out in opposition to the rezoning plan for the former Long Island College Hospital site.
Cobble Hill Association's Public Meeting on LICH
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COBBLE HILL — City Councilman Brad Lander declared his opposition on Wednesday to rezoning the former Long Island College Hospital to allow a bigger, taller multi-use complex with affordable housing — a stance that clashes with Mayor Bill de Blasio's.

The Cobble Hill community has spent months debating two proposals presented by Fortis Property Group, the developer who purchased the property for $240 million and plans to build high-rise residential towers. 

Fortis has offered two scenarios to the community — one that can be built within the current zoning regulations, and a second, bigger option that would require a property rezoning through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) with approvals from the City Council. 

Lander's decision is key to the rezoning process because the City Council typically defers to the opinion of the local councilman. 

"I have held off expressing my opinion on this," Lander told a crowded auditorium at P.S. 29 Wednesday night at the Cobble Hill Association's general fall meeting

"The community does not support this ULURP plan and neither do I."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration is making a strong push for more affordable housing, has expressed support for Fortis' plan to rezone.

"We’re presented with a choice between securing community needs like affordable housing, a school, an open space, and a scenario that delivers none of those benefits,” the mayor’s office said in an email sent to DNAinfo on Oct. 20. “There is no question which one the administration would rather pursue."

De Blasio, then a candidate for mayor, was arrested in 2013 at a protest aiming to save the now-shuttered hospital. 

“Our job is to make sure whatever comes next delivers as much as possible to this community, and we see a real opportunity to deliver on needs like schools, open space and affordable housing,” spokesman Wiley Norvell said Thursday morning. 

Under the rezoning plan, the highest tower would be 37 stories near Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Fortis has also said it would build a new school, affordable housing and 900,000 square feet of market-rate residential units.

But in its as-of-right proposal that needs no special permissions, Cobble Hill would not get a school or affordable units and may have a student dorm instead. That plan's highest tower is 35 stories with roughly 528,000 square feet of market-rate housing.

While Cobble Hill would prefer neither development option, Lander said, months of community input along with the results of an online survey found that residents overwhelmingly opposed a rezoning.

Of 427 responses his office received — more than two-thirds were from Cobble Hill — most residents who lived closest to the LICH development did not support the rezoning plan, the councilman said.  

The consensus was similar in a series of block meetings that were held in the neighborhood to discuss the LICH project, Cobble Hill Association leader Adrian "Buzz" Doherty said. 

"There was unanimity among all of these block meetings in their unwilling[ness] to support the rezoning plan," he said.

State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and a representative for Rep. Nydia Velázquez voiced their support for Lander's decision and the Cobble Hill community at the meeting. 

But some residents at Wednesday's meeting worried that de Blasio's support for the ULURP process would push the project forward and questioned how they could sway him. 

The Cobble Hill Association had already begun that effort last night by handing out petitions, titled "Say It Ain't So, Mayor de Blasio!," urging the mayor to "stand with us — We, the People—and not with Developers."

"[De Blasio] has to listen to this community regardless of his stance on affordable housing," longtime local Richard Anderson told DNAinfo after the meeting. 

"His popularity keeps falling and this is not going to help."

Fortis has been pushing for its rezoning plan, which would nearly double the amount of residential square-footage it plans to build at the site.

If Fortis moved forward with the property rezoning, Lander said he would try to squash the application when it gets to the City Council.

"I believe I would be in a strong position to persuade a majority of my colleagues to stand with us," Lander said.

If Fortis however decided to build its as-of-right plan, the community could pursue legal action Lander said, but would not go into further details. 

For its part, the developer has also been surveying locals in an effort to drum up support for a possible ULURP application. 

"More than 1,300 neighborhood residents told us over the past three weeks that they support our rezoning plan because they believe a new public school, affordable housing and increased park space are top priorities for the neighborhood," spokesman James Yolles said in a statement late Wednesday night. 

"Unfortunately tonight's meeting was not reflective of broader community sentiment, especially among current and future public school parents."