The developer who controls the old Long Island College Hospital site in Cobble Hill shocked local residents and pols on Friday when it announced it has given up trying to secure their support to rezone the land so it can build a massive luxury housing complex there, and will instead just build a slightly less massive one that doesn’t require the city’s approval.
To add insult to injury, local leaders and Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill) — who had been trying to negotiate with the developer and City Hall for a mutually agreeable design before discussions flatlined this year — learned the news via a Politico article published that afternoon, a fact they say proves developer Fortis Property Group was never really taking their concerns seriously anyway.
“To release this to the press as the way to inform your negotiating partners, I think it goes to show they don’t act in good faith when they come to the table,” said Amy Breedlove, the president of civic group the Cobble Hill Association.
Fortis, which bought the old Atlantic Avenue infirmary for $240 million in 2014, had put forward two plans for the property — one shovel-ready “as-of-right” design that includes several high-rises of up to 35 stories towering over the historic low-rise neighborhood, and a rezoning plan that has more units but placed the towers a bit farther away from local brownstones, and included some below-market-rate apartments, space for a school, and more parkland.
Cobble Hill Association members and many other residents balked at both designs — while Lander declared that he wouldn’t give his crucial support for the rezoning without theirs — and the various parties tried to work out a compromise in meetings organized by City Hall, which was keen to secure the below-market housing in order to hit Mayor DeBlasio’s goal of building 80,000 new units by 2024.
But Breedlove says the talks never really went anywhere, and she hadn’t heard a peep from Fortis this year. The developer presented a revised rezoning plan to Lander in July, but neither he nor the civic group was happy with it.
City Hall also only learned about Fortis’s decision to give up on the talks entirely from a reporter, a rep said, and the mayor is bummed about the loss of so-called affordable housing and the school space, a spokeswoman said in a statement.
“This is not the plan we wanted, and nobody won here,” said deputy press secretary Melissa Grace.
Breedlove agrees that everybody is losing out, but says she doesn’t think the community would have been any better off by accepting the most-recent rezone plan just to get the below-market housing or school space.
“Nothing we saw was going to be great for the community,” she said.
The Cobble Hill Association will now try to come up with a way to block the development through legal action, Breedlove says, and Lander likewise told Politico that he will look into litigation.
A Fortis spokesman refused to say whether the developer would go ahead with its previously released as-of-right design — described separately by both Lander and Breedlove as “hideous” — or come up with something new, but issued a statement saying it would announce more details soon.