Residents throw stones at Methodist’s glass house

Residents throw stones at Methodist’s glass house
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Revamped plans for New York Methodist Hospital’s controversial “u”-shaped medical building in Park Slope that hospital officials say blend in better with the historic neighborhood and move the majority of its bulk off residential streets will still overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic and out-of-place architecture, claimed dozens of Slopers at a packed community board meeting Thursday night.

Hospital officials and their team of architects and development consultants unveiled the revised renderings of the structure at Community Board 6’s Landmark and Land-Use Committee meeting on Thursday night and, despite the building’s stylistic nods to the surrounding neighborhood of 19th-century townhouses, community members said the project is too huge to ever work.

“It is a Disneyland notion — there is no way to make this fit,” said Brad Zilbersher of Sixth Street, adding his concern that the facility will create a huge strain on the low-rise neighborhood’s infrastructure. “There’s no happy-end result.”

The hospital still plans to tear down a slew of old buildings that it owns on Fifth Street, Eighth Avenue, and Sixth Street to make way for the facility, but has decided to shave down the bulk of the building on residential Fifth Street and Eighth Avenue and move it to Sixth Street, across from the hospital’s main campus, in order to lessen the proposed building’s impact on surrounding homes, said planners.

The new plan for the outpatient facility includes mock-ups that show what hospital officials meant when they said the Center for Community Health complex would blend in with the surrounding neighborhood. The massive structure is designed to be built as if it were a series of separate-but-touching buildings with terra-cotta-colored, townhouse-like facades ranging from four to six stories and topped with additional glass levels rising as high as 130 feet.

Hospital executives and their architects took pains to explain that they heard the community concerns that sent them back to the drawing board and incorporated them into the new arrangement.

“We’ve tried to take your comments and shape and form the building in a way so that it is more sympathetic to the heights, the shapes, and the basic geometry of the buildings that surround our site as a way to make the building more compatible and fit better with the overall neighborhood,” architect Peter Cavaluzzi of Perkins Eastman told the crowd.

The glass boxes protruding from the top of each terra-cotta shaded facade will “really blend in with the sky” Cavaluzzi said. The Fifth Street and Eighth Avenue sides of the building top out at 60-feet tall and the two stories that sit on the top will be set back 15 feet and add an additional 30 feet to the total height, according to Cavaluzzi.

Residents in attendance did not think much of the aesthetics lecture.

“I was not impressed with the design component,” said Fifth Street resident Bennett Kleinberg, who is president of the opposition group Preserve Park Slope and whose home would abut the planned facility.

Comments by residents inevitably returned to the issue of scale and people were particularly concerned that traffic to the new medical center will clog narrow streets, making it even harder than it already is to find a parking space.

Hospital representatives said that they took residents’ traffic concerns into consideration when refiguring the building plan by nixing the initial proposal to spill traffic from Sixth Street onto Fifth Street from a tunnel-like service road that is planned to run through the building. Instead the road has been redesigned so that all traffic will enter and exit onto Sixth Street.

Not everyone was so down on the hospital’s expansion plan at Thursday night’s meeting. Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), who penned a letter to hospital officials stating neighbors’ concerns days before the meeting, praised the revised plans.

“I believe what we saw tonight does reflect significant changes that are responsive to many of the things people have heard,” Lander said at the meeting. “We rely on good health care institutions to run good hospitals and broadly Methodist has been such an institution and I give them a fair amount of confidence.”

Many residents left Thursday night’s meeting demanding concrete answers from hospital officials, particularly on the issue of how many new patients the facility is expected to bring in.

“There was not one number given tonight,” said Marvin Ciporen of Eighth Avenue.

Hospital spokeswoman Lyn Hill said that the new outpatient facility is essential because of the hospital’s massive increase in outpatient procedures. The independent hospital currently treats more than 350,000 outpatients and 40,000 inpatients annually, according to Hill.

The new building would fall into three different residential zoning categories — R7B, R6B, and R6.The hospital hopes to obtain a variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals that would allow it to build the broad facility it designed rather than a taller and thinner complex.

The building will also include:

• A surgery center with 12 operating rooms, physician offices, an endoscopy suite, a cancer center, and urgent care services (none of the services will be 24-hours).

• Three levels of underground parking.

• A green roof on the low end of the building for the sake of Fifth Street residents whose properties will abut the facility and another green roof over the Fifth Street parking garage.

The demolition of 16 existing buildings – including some 19th-century brownstones – is still on the table even after neighbors blasted the Sixth Street medical center’s preliminary building plans for a new outpatient facility for being too gigantic. All of the buildings that will be knocked down are not landmarked and lie just outside of Park Slope’s enormous historic district.

Methodist’s planned expansion comes as other Brooklyn health institutions are in dire straits and Slopers at the meeting expressed concern that, if more hospitals close, it could further crowd Methodist. The state has tried all year to close Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill and could soon shutter Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Hospital officials will come back to Community Board 6 next month after an environmental review of the project is completed. In the meantime, the hospital is still accepting comments and questions about the project via e-mail at [email protected].

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

New York Methodist Hospital will present the same revised plans for the facility to the Park Slope Civic Council at Congregation Beth Elohim [237 Seventh Ave. between Fourth and Fifth streets in Park Slope]. Sept. 30, 6:30 pm.

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