Fortis announced in November 2016 that it would build as-of-right (AOR) rather than the much larger ULURP Plan that would have included affordable housing and other community facilities. Their decision was due to the extensive opposition by the Cobble Hill community and elected officials to the overwhelming scale and density of the ULURP Plan. Since the AOR Plan complies with existing zoning, no land use approvals are needed to proceed with its development, nor is there an opportunity for community input.
Since renamed River Park, the megaproject will consist of a renovated Polhemus Building, eight new townhouses on Amity Street, and five new residential towers. The townhouses and the Polhemus Condominiums will be completed in late 2018. Demolition on all parcels slated for new buildings is substantially complete as of Spring 2018. The second phase of development will entail three condominium towers: 1 River Park at 350 Hicks Street will be 15 stories; 2 River Park at 95 Pacific Street will be 36 stories; and 5 River Park will 15 stories. The final development phase will involve the construction of 3 and 4 River Park.
As part of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site, NYU Langone Medical Center will construct an ambulatory care center at Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street that will occupy about 160,000 square feet. It will be served by a 400-person staff, including more than 70 doctors, and have surgical suites for outpatient procedures.
About This Issue
LICH served residents of downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods for over 150 years. The State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center operated LICH after buying it from Continuum Health Partners on May 27, 2011. Citing ongoing operating deficits, SUNY closed LICH on May 22, 2014, despite intensive local opposition and lengthy litigation.
Following a contentious bidding process, SUNY then sold the 4.8-acre LICH site for $240 million to the Fortis Property Group. Fortis selected NYU Langone to operate a medical center and freestanding emergency facility, but not a full-service hospital, and proposed a massive redevelopment of the remaining LICH site.
In seeking bids for the LICH site, SUNY and the State of New York set no restrictions on the scale of its redevelopment. By ignoring the 50-foot height limitation of the adjacent Brooklyn Heights’ and Cobble Hills’ historic districts, the State sought to maximize revenue from the sale at the expense of the communities. In May 2015, Fortis shocked neighborhood residents when it released two alternate development schemes: an As-of-Right Plan (AOR) and ULURP Plan.
“As-of-Right” Plan Does NOT Require Approval
The AOR plan would not be subject to the City’s approval process since it complies with existing zoning requirements. Within its 896,490 total square feet (SF), there would be 528,935 SF of market-rate housing, a 262,555 SF community facility, for which Fortis proposed a college dormitory, and a 105,000 SF NYU Medical Center. At the time the AOR Plan was first announced, it would consist of four towers of 35, 28, 16 and 14 floors being built alongside 4-story rowhouses. The AOR plan would have no affordable housing.
ULURP Plan Significantly Larger
In exchange for a mix of “community benefits,” Fortis’ ULURP Plan, so-called because it would require City approval through the Uniform Land Use Review Process, would be significantly larger at 1.28 million SF. In addition to about 900 market-rate housing units in 900,000 SF, it would also include 225,000 SF of affordable housing, a 40,000 SF public school, and 10,000 SF of retail, as well as the NYU Medical Center.
The ULURP Plan would include 120-180 units of senior housing above the school, and convert the popular “tot lot” on Hicks Street into a public school playground. The ULURP Plan would be subject to a 6-month public review with final approval by the City Council.
Broad Opposition by Elected Officials and Coalition of Community Group
Fortis claimed that the ULURP Plan would be more sensitive to Cobble Hill because the bulk of the development is located in the northwest corner of Cobble Hill, away from the heart of its historic district, closer to Brooklyn Heights. However, Fortis was unwilling to engage in meaningful discussion with the community and its elected officials to devise a smaller ULURP plan that might gain local support. For that reason, Councilman Brad Lander, then Senator Daniel Squadron, and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon publicly announced their opposition to the Fortis ULURP Plan at the Cobble Hill Association’s (CHA) November 18, 2015 Annual Meeting. Their positions reflected input from 20 block association meetings sponsored by CHA, Lander’s online survey, and public meetings. In December 2015, the community presented the Mayor’s Office with 2,400 signatures on a petition opposing the ULURP Plan.
NYU Langone Ambulatory Care
NYU Langone’s medical facility will have its main entrance on Atlantic Avenue with an ambulance entrance off Hicks Street. In its 160,000 SF building, outpatients can access such services as multispecialty ambulatory surgery, a cancer center, a diagnostic imaging center, a laboratory, clinical pharmacy, and physicians’ offices. The freestanding emergency department will have 10 patient bays, 12 private flex-patient spaces and two inpatient beds. Patients requiring more advanced care will be transported to the NYU Medical Center in Manhattan or to NYU Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.
The BHA and the Cobble Hill Association jointly submitted this letter to NYU articulating our concerns regarding traffic, parking and accessibility issues arising from the Medical Center, and seeking to be more directly involved in the planning study being performed by NYU’s traffic consultant, Sam Schwartz, the former NYC Commissioner of Transportation. NYU’s response can be found here.
For more detail on the Fortis/LICH project, view the developer’s website here.