Lander-ing a blow: Councilman won’t support LICH rezoning

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

Prognosis negative!

Cobble Hill’s local councilman says he will oppose a developer’s bid to rezone the former Long Island College Hospital site to build a giant luxury housing complex — withholding a key vote the real estate outfit may need to get the proposal through the Council.

“The community doesn’t support this plan and neither do I,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill) at a meeting of civic group the Cobble Hill Association on Wednesday night.

The property’s new owner Fortis Property Group can still build a slightly-less-giant, less-lucrative luxury housing complex on the site — bounded by Atlantic Avenue and Pacific, Hicks and Henry streets — without the rezoning.

But with the change, it could build many more units — in exchange for which it is promising to also include space for a public school, some below-market-rate housing, and a design that fits in better with the historic neighborhood’s aesthetic.

Lander says he hates both plans, but knows he has to pick one, so he launched an online poll asking constituents which was “least bad,” and the numbers were clear — 42 percent of the 427 respondents said they would rather tolerate fewer units without the perks, versus 22 percent who said the rezoning plan was more bearable. The remaining voters simply couldn’t pick the lesser of two evils.

Council members typically side with the local member when deciding on land-use issues, so Lander’s opposition could prove fatal to its rezoning hopes.

But Fortis is putting up a formidable fight. The developer has hired two separate public relations firms with strong ties to Mayor DeBlasio to lobby pols and locals to support the plan.

Non-hobby lobby: Paid canvassers approach locals in Cobble Hill Park, hoping to get their signature in favor of rezoning the former Long Island College Hospital site for a housing development.
Peter LaBonte

The firm has been targeting locals with Facebook ads saying it is “crafting a rezoning plan for Cobble Hill that would offer a range of community services.” And residents say paid canvassers have recently begun approaching them on the phone and in public areas like Cobble Hill Park, emphasizing the perks while downplaying the size of the buildings — which neighbors say is misleading.

“They were asking people if they want a new school, affordable housing, and more park space,” said Dorothy Segal, who has lived in Cobble Hill for 38 years. “What do you think they’re going to say?”

But Fortis says it has collected more than 1,300 signatures in favor of the rezoning via its stumping, which it claims proves Lander and the civic association members are out of touch with local opinion.

“Unfortunately Wednesday’s meeting was not reflective of broader community sentiment, especially among current and future public school parents,” said spokesman James Yolles.

But the developer’s most important supporter lives in Manhattan. Mayor DeBlasio — who just two years ago got himself arrested protesting the closure of the hospital — supports the rezoning plan as part of his campaign to build more below-market housing around the city.

Lander is optimistic that residents’ anger will change Hizzoner’s tune, however.

“If Fortis continues with their current rezoning proposal and seeks to certify it despite the community’s opposition, I would hope the mayor would say no,” he said.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511.
Survey says: Councilman Brad Lander's poll says Cobble Hill residents don't want to rezone the old Long Island College Hospital site, so Brad Lander doesn't want to rezone the old Long Island College Hospital site.