Freshman 15: LICH developer threatens to add student dorms to high-rises if rezoning stalls • Brooklyn Paper

Freshman 15: LICH developer threatens to add student dorms to high-rises if rezoning stalls

Tower play: Fortis’s as-of-right plan for the old Long Island College Hospital site, which includes several glassy high-rises closer to the Cobble Hill Historic District.
FXFOWLE / Fortis Property Group

Call it a tower play.

The developer of the former Long Island College Hospital campus is now threatening to add a dormitory squeezing in hundreds of college students to the controversial luxury housing complex it plans to build on the site if it is unable to rezone the land so it can erect an even more lucrative high-rise there.

Fortis Property Group unveiled the change to its design this week, which Cobble Hill civic leaders — who have been negotiating with the developer for months to change the design to something neighbors don’t hate — say was totally unexpected and comes as a massive blow.

“We were absolutely shocked and astounded,” said Buzz Doherty, vice president of neighborhood group the Cobble Hill Association. “The community remains very unhappy with their behavior.”

Fortis, which inked a $240-million deal for the property in June last year, first unveiled two plans for the site in May this year. One so-called “as-of-right” design — which means it complied with existing zoning laws and could be built right now — that included several high-rises towering over the historic neighborhood. And a second plan that contained more units and would require rezoning approval from the city, but with towers set back a bit farther away from local brownstones, plus some below-market-rate units, a school, retail stores, and more green space.

The developer indicated at the time that the first plan was not its preference, but that it would go ahead with it — taking all of the goodies with it — if the already lengthy rezoning process turns into a prolonged battle.

But residents didn’t take the bait and continued to rail against both designs, and this week Fortis unveiled a new website showcasing the revised plans, which include additional eight-story and six-story “community facilities” for the as-of-right schema that the developer says it may turn into student housing for an un-named university that could add as many as 800 additional residents to the complex, according to the Cobble Hill Association’s head honcho.

The dorms would be an even bigger burden in a development that will already bring too many new people to the neighborhood, she said.

“The continued opinion of the community is both plans are too high and too dense,” said association president Laurel Burr, who said Fortis sprung the new plans on the group last week. “And now a dorm — that’s an awful lot of density on its own.”

A Fortis rep said the dorms are “one of the community facility uses we are exploring” but that the company remains committed to pushing the rezoning plan.

“We continue to believe our rezoning plan, which would include affordable and senior housing, a new public school and increased park space, is a great alternative for the neighborhood,” said spokesman James Yolles.

But the civic leaders say the developer’s patience seems to be wearing thin, and it may wash its hands of the rezoning fight altogether if the dorm scheme proves to be more than an idle threat.

Fortis didn’t share its new plans with Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who had been orchestrating the community consultation process, until last week. And it claims the dorms could generate enough extra cash to make up for the extra housing units it would lose, Doherty said.

“They do not seem as committed to the rezoning as they had before,” said Doherty, “With the addition of that student housing, the difference in financial gain from the as-of-right plan to the [rezoning] plan is much smaller.”

Ultimately, the developer doesn’t need the community’s support for the rezoning, however — it needs to convince the City Planning Commission, Council members, and Mayor DeBlasio. And Hizzoner, at least, is backing the plan that will bring below-market housing, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The Cobble Hill Association says it will host block meetings next week to discuss the latest developments with residents.

Reach reporter Harry MacCormack at hmaccormack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @HMacBKPaper.
The lesser evil: This design includes more units and would require rezoning approval from the city, but features buildings that fit better with the neighborhood aesthetic and are set back farther from the Cobble Hill Historic District.
FXFOWLE / Fortis Property Group

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