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Metho-dissed! Community board members vote no on Methodist expansion plan

New York Methodist Hospital plans to tear down a slew of old buildings — some from the 19th century — that it owns on Fifth Street and replace them with out-patient facilities.
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A controversial plan to expand New York Methodist Hospital will shatter the calm of three blocks of century-old row houses, overwhelming neighbors with traffic, smog, and hulking, modern buildings, claimed members of a Park Slope panel that voted the proposal down at a heated meeting last Thursday night.

The 11 to 1 no vote followed a loud, sidewalk-clogging protest outside John Jay High School and, at the meeting, dozens of impassioned speeches for and against the plan that calls for demolishing 19th-century townhouses, including some brownstones, to make way for an eight-story, U-shaped medical complex. The hours of testimony were punctuated by boos from plan opponents that sometimes drowned out neighbors and Methodist employees singing the praises of the expansion, but the board’s land use committee ultimately decided that, while the opposition might be rude, the outpatient facility expansion would unacceptably “alter the essential character of the neighborho­od.”

“I like to think that despite all the catcalls and things like that, the community was heard,” said Peter Fleming, the committee’s chairman. “I’m hoping the hospital isn’t going to go through with its nuclear solution of building two buildings that nobody wants them to build.”

Methodist has gone back to the drawing board twice in hopes of assuaging concerns that the Center for Community Health, which is slated to take the place of 16 buildings on Fifth Street, Eighth Avenue, and Sixth Street, will overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic and out-of-place architecture. Hospital representatives unveiled the latest congestion-combatting modifications at the meeting, including an employees-only entrance at the corner of Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue and consolidating patient services and other programs into one section of the complex.

But the tweaks were not enough to appease the committee or many among the 200-strong crowd that filed through a stripped-down version of airport security — a single metal detector manned by a school police officer that a board member said was brought in upon hearing of the planned protest. The rally drew 50 and many participants later took to the podium to argue that the outpatient center will rip the fabric of the low-rise, residential neighborhood and cause polluting traffic jams despite the hospital’s claims to the contrary.

“Somewhat shockingly, Methodist claims that its proposal will have actually no impact on air, no impact on traffic and no impact on air quality,” said environmental lawyer and Park Slope resident Eve Gartner. “This is truly one of the great neighborhoods in the country, and probably in the world, and to allow Methodist Hospital to do so much damage to the beauty of our streets and to the health of our children requires a much greater showing of need and a much greater disclosure of impacts than we have seen from Methodist.”

Hospital honchos and pro-expansion neighbors, including clergy members and medical professionals, countered that changes in technology and health care business models have created the need for a new medical site, which will feature 12 operating rooms, physician offices, an endoscopy suite, a cancer center, and urgent care services.

Slope Councilman Brad Lander broke with the board committee, saying that the near-demise of nearby Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill drives home the need for Methodist to grow.

“Long Island College Hospital is failing, in part, because they didn’t have good long-term strategic planning for what was necessary for a hospital to do to be able to continue to operate in the 21st century,” Lander said. “I think we’re lucky to have neighborhood health institutions, and if we want Methodist to be able to continue for the next 100 years to function as a neighborhood health institution, then we have to try to figure out how to meet them halfway.”

The community board committee said it would reconsider its denial if the hospital does more to address Slopers’ concerns about traffic, construction, and pollution, but Methodist reps said that they are low on time for tinkering with the design and will have to talk over the next step in dealing with the local panel, the position of which is only advisory, before taking their case for rezoning to the city’s Board of Standard and Appeals.

“I don’t know what the response would be from my colleagues who have been working on this for six months, and who feel that they have been working in good faith, and have made changes, and are willing to continue making changes,” said Methodist spokeswoman Lyn Hill. “But we do have the time schedule as well. We want this project to move ahead.”

The hospital could build the complex without a zoning change, but would have to make the two buildings taller and narrower. The full board will vote on the plan next month.

Updated 9:53 pm, November 26, 2013: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the chairman of Community Board 6's landmarks and land use committee and mischaracterized New York Methodist Hospital's short-term plans. The chairman is Peter Fleming and hospital representatives said they will consult about whether to again modify the plans in response to concerns of members of Community Board 6.
Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
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Reasonable discourse

Charles from Park Slope says:
As a long standing resident of Park Slope, whether to support or oppose the expansion of Methodist
Hospital is a difficult issue to resolve in both my heart and mind. On the one hand, hospitals are public purpose institutions that serve the community and beyond. On the other hand, Park Slope is a residential neighborhood with many homeowners and residents who will likely be adversely impacted by the expansion, especially those in adjacent buildings. Everyone has much to gain or lose by the final outcome of this issue.

That change is inevitable is axiomatic, and Park Slope certainly is a different place from 40 year ago.
I remember long ago when children played in the streets until dark and Methodist's emergency room
was a feared place to end up with an injury. I also remember the many people who left this neighborhood because it was diversifying, to which I say good riddance to the intolerant, and too bad you sold your buildings cheap. The precedent set in Park Slope was that good people could work hard and make their neighborhood better for themselves and their children.

Therefore, if we, the homeowners and residents of Park Slope, are beholden to zoning laws, as of right development and special interests who have planned this expansion for years and even decades (anyone remember in the 1970s when Methodist attempted to take the surrounding area by eminent domain?), there must be acknowledgement of the real concerns of the surrounding community, and a compromise that works for a majority. Anything less will cause a friction that will diminish the interests of all parties, including the reputation and economic viability of the hospital. We all have a stake to keep this neighborhood a good and decent place to live and work, and my hope is elected officials, neighbors, city agencies and the hospital work together to forge a lasting partnership that reflects the values and hard work that created the Park Slope we all love.
Nov. 22, 2013, 9:36 pm
Daniel Kummer, CB6 Chair from Park Slope says:
I am falsely quoted in the above article. I have not spoken with this reporter, nor have I uttered those words or anything close to them to anyone in either public or private conversations. I do not know who provided that quote, but whoever they are they do not speak for Community Board 6. The Methodist application is still before the Community Board, as the committee's recommendation must be voted on at our general board meeting in December.
Nov. 22, 2013, 11:01 pm
jay from nyc says:
oh yeah real community, my butt. The only thing these folks care about is their property value, there aint' no community here beyond that. Stop fronting.
Nov. 23, 2013, 12:17 am
Charles from PS says:
Yo Jay, word? No offense, but you have some serious issues to resolve inside yourself, son. What is wrong with the middle class being concerned about their property values??? This is what these people got, and you would be concerned too if you had property. Jealously breeds ignorance, which leads to hate, which leads to intolerance. You need to step back and re-assess. Don't be a hater, and learn some respect.
Nov. 23, 2013, 7:41 am
JAY from NYC says:
Charles you mus-understand my man. Check it, not hatin on property value, dollars is real, just objectifying to the whole kum-by-ya frontin schrade by these so alleged concerned community hoodsters that this is about something other than the Benjamins, call it like it is playa and represent. Step and chase that paper and be about it, don't try and perpetrate some 60's hippie b.s. about neighborhood and community spiritual blah bity blah. People got to be paid and that is that.
Oh, and for the record, these folks are not middle class, you aint middle class when you own a building that is worth well over a million bucks and maybe have a tenant or two as well, like these folks are. This is them that be the man and them that gots keepin it.
Nov. 23, 2013, 1:38 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
I would prefer to not have a behemoth like Columbia-Presbyterian plopped down in the middle of Park Slope. Also, Methodist is a terrible hospital. Its inability to deliver quality care or manage basic administrative functions hovers somewhere between Kafka and Mel Brooks. Unless I was bleeding out I would put myself in a taxi to NYU or Presbyterian before I ever subjected myself to their tender mercies. Maybe the neighborhood should get together and use eminent domain to get *them* to leave.
Nov. 23, 2013, 1:48 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Scott from Park Slope says: "Its inability to deliver quality care or manage basic administrative functions hovers somewhere between Kafka and Mel Brooks."

That's an improvement, Scott. When I lived there 10-plus years ago, Methodist hovered somewhere between the Gulag and Jerry Lewis.
Nov. 24, 2013, 4:20 pm
the Czech says:
Eve Gartner may in fact be an environmental lawyer but she either does not understand SEQRA or she is disingenuous.
Nov. 25, 2013, 2:44 pm
Irene from Park Slope says:
Someone's getting richer out of this, that's for sho'. Will Kummer stand erect and fight this? Or be flaccid as a sea slug?
Nov. 27, 2013, 8:43 am
megan from super cool midwest, ya! says:
Hmmm...so Fleming is no kummer. Got it.
Nov. 27, 2013, 8:49 am

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