It don’t fit: Residents blast Methodist building plan

It don’t fit: Residents blast Methodist building plan
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A massive “u”-shaped medical building that New York Methodist Hospital wants to construct in Park Slope will be a blot on the face of the historic neighborhood, claimed dozens of fretful Slopers at a meeting announcing the hospital’s plan last night.

Residents packed into a meeting at the Sixth Street medical center where hospital officials, joined by architects and development consultants, filled the public in on specifics of the plan, which calls for the demolition of 16 buildings — including some 19th-century brownstones —in the heart of the Park Slope.

The hospital plans to tear down a slew of old buildings that it owns on Fifth Street, Eighth Avenue, and Sixth Street and replace them with a “much-needed” outpatient facility that is proposed to be up to eight stories high on a portion of Sixth Street.

But neighbors said that the giant structure will dramatically change the makeup of the area by bringing traffic, idling cars and trucks, and construction noise, with some suggesting that the hospital scrap its plans.

“People do not move to Park Slope for Methodist Hospital – they move here for the look and feel of the brownstones,” said longtime Fifth Street resident David Goodman, who lives in a condo directly across the street from where the planned building is slated to rise.

But hospital representatives promised residents that the new facility, which has not been designed yet, will not look like your standard hospital with a lot of steel and glass, but will blend in with the neighborhood as much as it can.

“It’s not going to be a jarring modernist structure that stands out and kind of grabs attention. It will be something that really feels harmonious with the existing context and fabric,” said architect Peter Cavaluzzi of Perkins Eastman. “It’s going to be a modern building. It’s going to have modern facilities within it, but we want to learn from the architectural character that currently exists in the neighborhood.”

All of the buildings that will be knocked down are not landmarked and lie just outside of Park Slope’s enormous historic district, which boasts 2,575 protected edifices.

Cavaluzzi argued that Park Slope isn’t only made up of the notable row houses and brownstones, and that other big buildings are a part of its fabric, a concept that stirred some residents who don’t buy that the new building will blend in.

“A lot of us who live in Park Slope feel there is a great deal of homogeneity in terms of scale and building material than you might have suggested in your presentation,” said Peter Bray of the Park Slope Civic Council, which held the joint meeting with Community Board 6’s Landmarks and Land Use committee.

Some neighbors suggested that the hospital maintain the old structures by building the new facility inside them or preserving their facades, but consultants said that the idea is not a practical one since a medical center requires a wide working space.

The new building would fall into three different residential zones – R7B, R6B, and R6, which makes up most of the site. This could accommodate a 300,000-square-foot building under current zoning. The hospital hopes to obtain a variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals that would allow it to build a broad facility instead of a taller and thinner complex.

But some residents said they rather that the hospital build as-of-right, which calls for the bulk of the building to reside on Sixth Street, shaving a few stories off of the portion of the facility on residential Eighth Avenue and Fifth Street and building higher on a hospital-owned parking garage on Fifth Street closer to Seventh Avenue.

A development consultant from Washington Square Partners said that building on the parking garage would be difficult because of a seismic building code.

Hospital spokeswoman Lyn Hill said that the new outpatient facility is essential because of the growing number of patients at the medical center between Seventh and Eighth avenues. The hospital treats more than 400,000 patients a year.

“A new building will allow us to re-purpose and reconfigure space for the growing number of inpatients in our existing building,” said Hill.

But some residents aren’t ready to give up their historic architecture for a bigger hospital facility.

“I understand their need to expand, but I wish it didn’t have to be at the expense of the community,” said Eighth Avenue resident Ibby Sollors, who called the demolition of the buildings “devastating.”

The planned “Center for Community Health” building will include:

• A surgery center with 12 operating rooms, physician offices, an endoscopy suite with six special rooms, a cancer center, that will offer radiation oncology, chemotherapy and urgent care services, and additional rooms for meeting space.

• A tunnel-like service road running through the building from Sixth Street onto Fifth Street.

• Three levels of underground parking.

• A green roof over a lower portion of the structure intended to benefit Fifth Street residents whose properties will abut the facility. Another green roof will be installed over the Fifth Street parking garage.

• A hospital-owned physician’s parking lot at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street will be built on to accommodate the massive structure.

The facility will be constructed as if it were made of separate buildings with some portions ranging in different heights, said officials. The lowest level of the structure will be on the Fifth Street side, which is the back of the building.

Residents’ other concerns included the blockage of sunlight from the taller building, environmental hazards, parking problems, the loose of the loss of historic buildings, and the relative ambiguity of the proposal — citing previous meetings about the project held with little or no advance notice.

Hospital officials expect to present a building design by September. Hill said that the hospital wants to garner community input about the project by hosting public meetings, and is accepting comments and questions about the project via e-mail at [email protected].

Construction is expected to begin in late 2014 or early 2015, said hospital officials. Once construction starts it will likely take three years to complete.

Some of the hospital-owned buildings have tenants, but Hill said those residents have already been notified that they will need to move to nearby housing will cost equal to, or less than, what they are paying now.

Methodist’s proposed expansion comes at a time of crisis for Brooklyn hospitals including the proposed closure of the money-losing Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

An overhead view of the ‘u’-shaped building New York Methodist Hospital wants to build.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham