Dr. DeBlasio: Mayor attempts to revive LICH development talks

Freshman 15: LICH developer threatens to add student dorms to high-rises if rezoning stalls
FXFOWLE / Fortis Property Group

Emergency surgery is back at Long Island College Hospital!

Mayor DeBlasio is attempting to resuscitate negotiations between the developer of the former Cobble Hill infirmary and local leaders, as flatlined discussions threaten to pull the plug on any below-market-rate housing inside the massive towers planned for the site. But critics warn that a quick nip and tuck from Hizzoner’s spin doctors may not be enough to save this deal.

“The idea is to see if we can find a proposal for the LICH site that everyone can live with,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill), who declared in November that he will oppose Fortis Property Group’s bid to upzone the land, which would allow it to build more housing there than is currently allowed. “We’re not there yet, and I don’t know if we’ll get there. But it’s worth trying,”

City Hall organized two meetings between Fortis, civic group the Cobble Hill Association, Lander, and several other local pols over the past month, where DeBlasio’s reps presented a revised rezoning proposal offering more space for a new school and less for housing than in previous incarnations, according to the neighborhood group.

In exchange for the zoning change — which will be tough to secure without the local Council member’s support — the firm has previously promised to include several hundred below-market units and the public school space in the development, which will sprawl across more than two blocks and rise at least 35 stories.

Without it, the company says it will still erect tall towers on the site, just with exclusively market-rate units — and potentially a college dormitory — and no school space, which it doesn’t need city approval to do.

The civic association has so far opposed both plans on the grounds that the high-rises are out of scale with the historic neighborhood and will overwhelm the area with people and traffic.

But the mayor, who once fervently opposed the hospital’s closure and sale, is now trying to uphold his campaign promise to create or preserve 200,000 units of so-called “affordable” housing throughout the city over the next decade.

FXFOWLE / Fortis Property Group

The former Park Sloper also has some friends in common with Fortis — the companies handling the developer’s public relations and lobbying for the project both helped with his election campaign and one is run by a close friend of Hizzoner.

Everyone involved in the recent discussions remains tight-lipped on the specifics of the new pitch, but Cobble Hill Association honchos say it hasn’t won them over yet — plus a larger school raises new questions about the impact it would have on traffic and infrastructure.

“Our concerns remain very much what they were from the beginning, from the first time we were shown any proposals,” said the association’s president Laurel Burr.

All parties say they are willing to continue negotiating, however, and could change their minds on the rezoning if they can hash out an agreeable design that the neighborhood supports.

“We’ve never slammed the door,” said Burr. “We maintained in November that we could not support the rezoning as proposed and we’re listening. We’re listening and asking a lot of questions.”

The various groups will meet with the city again next week to continue discussions.

But the clock is ticking — workers are beginning demolition on the old hospital buildings this week, making way for a new free-standing emergency room that will go up on Atlantic Avenue regardless of which plan the developer pursues.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Golden years: Then-mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio rallies to keep Long Island College Hospital open in 2013.
Photo by Paul Martinka