It is a civic war!
Mutiny is afoot in an influential Cobble Hill civic association, where discontented members claim their leader has been ruling with an iron fist, and his tyranny is thwarting the group’s ability to fight a widely hated high-rise development planned on the site of the former Long Island College Hospital.
“The issue is about both who will lead the battle to limit development on the LICH site and how it will be conducted,” the 24 rebels stated in a release announcing a vote next Thursday to expel the Cobble Hill Association acting president Roy Sloane.
Sloane has been a member of the group for 35 years and has served as president on and off for 18 years since he was first elected in 1982. But the malcontents say he illegitimately seized the reins of the organization when the last president resigned earlier this summer — they say the position has a two-term limit, he says it has a two-consecutive-term-limit — and has since foiled efforts to elect others into positions of power.
“He has not been inclusive,” said association member and former president Franklin Stone. “Cobble Hill has many accomplished people living in it — people who are accomplished in finance, in legal, in media — and in every turn he has rebuffed efforts of those people to assume leadership.”
The dissidents say Sloane has been too soft in negotiations with developer Fortis Property Group, which inked a deal to buy the hospital complex last year and in May announced its plans to erect glass towers of up to 40-stories in its place — a design that had many Cobble Hill residents’ blood boiling.
Sloane led the group in its ultimately unsuccessful fight against the closure and sale of the hospital. But since Fortis unveiled its designs, his administration has pursued a policy of engagement with the developer — organizing public and private meetings with Fortis and its architect FxFowle to negotiate a design that neighbors might find less offensive.
Sloane says the mutineers would rather take immediate legal action to stop the towers, but the association voted to commit itself to the peacemaking plan after it was first proposed by Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) — and there is nothing stopping the group from filing a suit if the negotiations don’t work out.
“Participation in Lander’s constructive engagement process is the best avenue for our initial discussions with the developer,” said Sloane when reached by us. “No legal rights are forestalled by engaging in this process, and the community can accept or reject any proposals that emerge from the meetings with the developer and their architect FxFowle at the conclusion of Brad’s process.”
But the embattled leader says his opposition’s real beef is over claims made by Stone that he nixed her attempts to bring in a high-profile attorney to represent the group pro bono.
Stone said she could bring in former deputy mayor Randy Mastro — who worked under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — to lead the legal battle gratis, but only on the condition that she be able to dictate policy within the group, he said.
“That’s a hard pill for a democratic organization to swallow,” he said. “It meant that we really no longer needed a board because Franklin would simply make all decisions for the community.”
Sloane also claims Mastro ultimately said no — not him — but he is being blamed.
“This is at the heart of what these disaffected folks are angry at me about,” said Sloane. “They feel that I turned down free legal services — which I did not — and then got mad when I found out that the hiring was a bluff, that Mastro turned them down.”
Stone, who is a lawyer herself, has a different interpretation of the events. She says that she and Mastro, a long-time friend, had discussed the case and that he had expressed interest in working with the association, and that it was only natural that he would report to her and her team, given their relationship and her legal expertise. But when the board said it wasn’t okay with that plan, she backed off, she says.
“I discussed the case with Randy in June, and was told by the CHA that I had gotten ahead of the board and wasn’t authorized to discuss legal representation with anyone,” she said. “And when I discovered that the negotiations were going to remain in Roy’s hands and not placed in the hands of an experienced team, I choose not pursue it further.”
The association ultimately hired attorney Jim Walden — who represented the association and other community groups in their fight against the hospital sale — as its legal representative.
The insurgents claim Sloane’s leadership style has caused so much division within the group, they’re worried that discontented members will form an antagonistic, second civic association that would dilute the Cobble Hill Association’s influence.
“I do not think he included enough opinions and enough points of view in our neighborhood in order to prevent the formation of an opposing association,” said long-time member Laurie Maurer. “[The Fortis development] is going to radically affect our neighborhood no matter how high it is, but what I’m worried about is having two voices going to the developers, and they’ll shrug their shoulders at us.”
Their fears are not without precedent — disaffected members of the Manhattan Beach Community Group left to form a rival group in 2007, instigating a Hatfield and McCoy-style feud that has frustrated the neighborhood’s relationship with its elected officials.
One thing Sloane and many of his opponents agree on — they’re sorry it has come to this. Many of the rebels were quick to offer kind words for the man who has dedicated a great part of his life to his community.
“He’s done wonderful things for Cobble Hill,” said Maurer.
And Sloane says he would rather his legacy to be the countless hours he has put into the association, rather than the bitter dispute that may end his time there for good.
“I’ve been to thousands and thousands of meetings on behalf of my community and I don’t want to be remembered as a sour grape, who harmed Cobble Hill on [the Fortis development],” said Sloane.
The association will vote on Sloane’s future at a meeting at the Cobble Hill Health Center on Sept. 10.
Special meeting of the Cobble Hill Association at the Cobble Hill Health Center (380 Henry St. between Congress and Warren streets in Cobble Hill, www.cobbl