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4 Questions for Cobble Hill Association on Citi Bike, Small Business, LICH

By Nikhita Venugopal | October 10, 2016 8:07am | Updated on October 10, 2016 8:43am
 A brownstone-lined street in Cobble Hill.
A brownstone-lined street in Cobble Hill.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

COBBLE HILL — It's been more than a year since Cobble Hill heard about the redevelopment of Long Island College Hospital into high-rise condo towers, but the path to resolution between the developer and the community has no end in sight. 

In the five months since the Cobble Hill Association elected new leadership, the civic group's efforts to sit down with Fortis Property Group, the site's developer, has been met with silence. 

"It doesn’t seem like they want to sit down with us. I think they’re done talking," board president Amy Breedlove said in an interview with DNAinfo New York last week. 

Fortis has been pushing to rezone the site in hopes of building multi-story residential towers, possibly with a school and affordable housing. Demolition is currently underway for the property, which will also include a new medical facility operated by NYU Langone. The hospital's narrative, from protests over its ultimate closure in 2014 to its redevelopment, is tightly bound to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was arrested during a rally as a mayoral candidate and whose role in the sale is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney. 

The community, including the association (CHA), has fought back against the tower proposal, which they say would overwhelm and change the character of the historic neighborhood, known for its 19th century townhouses and independent businesses.

But the CHA is not opposed to new development. Breedlove said Cobble Hill isn't "NIMBY" — an acronym for the anti-development catchall "Not In My Backyard" — but rather, "PIMBY" — "Planning In My Backyard."

"We want planning. We want contextual good development and planning, not [re]zoning," Breedlove said in an interview with DNAinfo.

The new board has since brought fresh energy to the organization by actively communicating with locals and restoring committees, including urban planning and landmarks preservation. Membership has increased 47% since the election in May and the board is also planning a new fall concert series at Cobble Hill Park.

Breedlove and Rebecca Johnson, chairwoman of CHA's communications committee, sat down with DNAinfo last week to discuss issues in the neighborhood. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity:

DNAinfo: As new leaders of the board, you inherited the neighborhood's biggest concern — the redevelopment of LICH. How are you moving forward with the discussion?

Amy Breedlove: We’re still in contact with the players — City Hall, [City Councilman] Brad Lander’s office. We have been in contact with Fortis about maintenance issues and other things. [But] it doesn’t seem like they want to sit down with us. I think they’re done talking. And that, I have to say, that this board would like to change. 

We know that Fortis wants to make money. We know that City Hall wants a school and affordable housing. And we know that the community wants to protect the neighborhood and start planning for the density that’s coming in. So I think [we] can sit down and come to a resolution.

Rebecca Johnson: We know it’s coming. We’re not in denial.

► READ MORE: What You Need to Know About Long Island College Hospital Amid Federal Probe

AB: We’re not anti-development. We know this is coming. But we do want to integrate it into our neighborhood. We have to live with it forever, whereas Fortis sells it and moves on. The city puts in their school and their affordable housing and they move on. We have to live with it and we want that seat at the table.

RJ: Plus, we see that whatever happens here is going to affect what happens in Brooklyn for the coming century.

DNAinfo: The closure of small businesses is something the entire city is seeing, including corridors like Court and Smith streets. How is the neighborhood reacting to these changes? Is CHA working with the proposed Business Improvement District for the area?

AB: [The BID] has been in contact with us and it’s something that we would support. This community really believes in retaining what we have. We have a fish monger, we have a butcher, a bakery. We have a bookstore. We have a lot of Amazon deliveries and some FreshDirect deliveries, but for the most part, all the neighbors I’m talking to are going to Fish Tails.

I think that's something Fortis needs to understand. It's this European model of living. It’s a way of life that people have moved to Cobble Hill and the neighborhoods around us to do. For most people, you’re not going to FreshDirect, you’re not going to Whole Foods. You’re nightly meals come fresh from the local shop.

► READ MORE: Smith Street Sees Retail Rents Jump But Court Street Drops, Report Finds

And I think that’s a really important quality of life issue that we would want to protect.

RJ: And we would hope that people who move into the [new] development would like that. And want that. 

AB: Fortis isn’t really thinking about how their residents are going to live and why they would want to live in Cobble Hill.

DNAinfo: Switching to another topic that's a recent bugbear for Community Board 6, which includes Cobble Hill — Citi Bike. What kind of reaction have you been getting from neighbors?

AB: There was a little uproar when they put them in. We were not notified as a community organization to let our neighbors know that the jackhammers were going to start. But then once they’re in, it’s fascinating. In the morning you walk by at 7:30 and they’re completely full, and by 9:30 [a.m.] they’re completely empty. So people are using them.

There was a proposal to put it outside [Cobble Hill Park] and we did recommend to move it away from the park.

► READ MORE: Love or Hate Citi Bike in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens? CB6 Wants to Know

RJ: We wanted to protect the sanctity of the park. It’s a tiny little park but it’s beautiful. This is why a strong community organization is important. You’re like the invisible levers, but if you’re not here sticking your hand up, the neighborhood suffers.

DNAinfo: What other neighborhood-wide concerns are you dealing with as a group?

AB: [There are] a number of things we are looking at as an organization.There’s a divide within the community amongst the long-term residents and the new. The area is getting quite affluent so the townhouse next door is selling for $5-, $7-million dollars. How, as an organization, are we bringing everyone together?

I think what brings everyone together is the beauty of this 19th century housing stock in this neighborhood. Part of the mandate of the organization is really to protect that historic district. We have both sides, the new and long-term, who agree on that, so we’re very lucky.

RJ: For me, I’ve watched Manhattan change and become just these monoliths. Every block you used to love and know, there’s a skyscraper. It’s sad. So when I come back to our neighborhood, I’m like aah. It’s a relief. Watching Manhattan has made me value Cobble Hill even more.