Fearing a loss of potential below-market housing at a Brooklyn location that was central to his 2013 election, Mayor Bill de Blasio has dispatched top aides to strike a compromise for the future of the Long Island College Hospital site.
The administration is directly involved in negotiations among local politicians, the developer who owns the site — Fortis Property Group— and the Cobble Hill Association, a community organization that has continually spoken out against Fortis’ plans for a luxury condo tower.
“I would be irresponsible if I wasn’t trying to help come to a solution that would include affordable housing on a site that currently would be developed purely as market rate unless we intervened,” deputy mayor Alicia Glen said in an interview in December.
The mayor has previously voiced his preference for allowing Fortis to rezone the property, which would enable a series of community amenities and low- to middle-income apartments. Without the rezoning, which needs City Council approval, Fortis would build only luxury condos.
The administration hosted a meeting several days before Christmas inside City Hall to work out a deal for the site, which de Blasio represented when he was in the City Council and later visited as a mayoral candidate to protest the hospital closing. (The hospital has since shut its doors; only an emergency department remains.)
Among those who attended the meeting were Fortis executives Joel Kestenbaum and Terrence Storey; the developer’s lobbyist, George Fontas; administration officials Michael DeLoach and Peter Wertheim; three members of the Cobble Hill Association and elected officials who represent the area, including Councilman Brad Lander, state Senator Daniel Squadron and state Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, according to multiple sources involved in the talks.
“Thanks to the good organizing of the Cobble Hill Association, the voice of the people I think was heard at City Hall and by Fortis and the mayor’s team then reached out and people are sitting down again to try to develop a proposal that everyone can live with,” Lander said in an interview this week. “We’re not there yet, but it’s a good development to have people sitting down and trying. And the idea would be to have a proposal that reflects some of the benefits that were associated with the rezoning proposal … but without such a massive increase in density.”
He said the developer “indicated an openness to talking about an alternative that was less massively dense,” but cautioned that “this is not easy and I’m not at all sure we’ll get there.”
The sides were at a stalemate after Lander announced in November that he would oppose the developer’s plans to apply for a rezoning of the land because the Cobble Hill Association opposed it so vigorously.
Residents have expressed numerous concerns, with the height of the proposed buildings topping the list.
With the rezoning, Fortis would build a 37-floor residential tower, low- to moderate-income apartments, a public school, more parking space and other neighborhood perks. Without it, the company would just build the condos in a 35-floor building and forego the rent-regulated apartments or other amenities.
Both plans include a new medical facility operated by NYU Langone.
Some Cobble Hill residents have complained recently that Fortis’ plans for a public school, which the de Blasio administration and other residents support, would add crowds and traffic, according to several sources.
Fortis has said it is willing to continue negotiating because it would prefer to get the land rezoned, a process that would allow additional residential space to be created and, therefore, more revenue for the developer.
“We continue to work with the community, local elected officials and City Hall to craft the best possible redevelopment plan for the former LICH site — one that includes important community benefits like a new public school, affordable housing and increased park space,” Fortis spokesman James Yolles said.
Buzz Doherty, a leader in the Cobble Hill Association, said members of the organization made clear at the December meeting they need further information on the proposed redevelopment.