Historic Brookyln District Fights Big Development

Proposed Plans for former SUNY site.
Image Courtesy Fortis Developmnet Group

Along with so many other neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx, historic neighborhood Cobble Hill in Brooklyn is in the fight of its hundreds of years old life. Areas which have always been known for their distinctive architecture, uniqueness and rich character are slipping away like mountainous terrain after a deluge. And New Yorkers are asking, what are our elected officials in Albany and New York City thinking?

Why are they selling off every piece of public property without regard for the public whom they have been elected by to protect and represent? The city is flush with money, while the state is seeking to bail out its ailing bank account from the city coffers. There has not been this much building in NYC since 1969 and what is being built is overwhelming, swallowing up our sky, streets and humanity like the 50's sci-fi movie monster, The Blob. The environmental ramifications of over-crowding here are chilling. The subways are packed at every hour of the day. The corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street on most days seems like Coney Island on a hot summer night. The absurd amount of homeless people on our multi-million dollar streets is a mind bending reminder of impenetrable polarization.

Cobble Hill is already overwhelmed by congestion. The city planners and developers with Governor Cuomo ignore the problems that are about to made worse. With them ironically Mayor De Blasio, who not long ago said of overzealous development, "We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don't belong. We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods."

Once upon a time, Mayor De Blasio went to jail to show his solidarity with the community in support of the much needed Long Island College Hospital, which served thousands from many neighborhoods and all walks of life. The result of extinguishing LICH has not been good, as some neighborhood residents have paid a huge price--with their lives, having not gotten urgent health care in time. The current NYU Langone emergency facility is limited and inadequate to meet the needs of many kinds of emergencies. What kind of Governor leaves thousands of people, from so many diverse neighborhoods, without a hospital?!

Elegant, Brooklyn Heights is going through their own development crisis. Overpopulation from the Piers; the recently built unsightly Pier House, blotting out the iconic view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the promenade. Cramming anything and everything possible into the limited space along the water with more to come. It looks like a beautiful satin dress made ridiculous with too many cabbage roses on the bodice.

Cobble Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods count as one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City, close to the British stronghold in Brooklyn Heights where the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn took place. It established the first blue collar housing in the 1800's by Alfred Tredway White, beautiful Romanesque revival towers that gave light and air to the former inhabitants of New York's lower east side slums. The architecture includes: Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, French Second Empire and Greek Revival Styles of housing. There are few apartment houses and those that are here are in scale with the neighborhoods proportions. Keeping the essence of a historic area intact is essential to our identity as New Yorkers. After Mayor Bloomberg got through demolishing the Upper East Side and flushing all the character out of it, it became a place with big brands and apartment towers galore, no longer a precious New York City neighborhood with cultural value.

Now the debacle of the former LICH site, bought by Fortis Development Group threatens the area with a monstrous 35 story tower, with smaller but substantial towers beside it, looming in the shadow of the Cobble Hill Historic District. The quaint neighborhood streets are too narrow for traffic to get through in any timely fashion. I can't imagine what 7,000 more lives with cars will mean if you want to make it to the airport--maybe start the day before? Can the sewage system, police and other infrastructural components that keep a neighborhood sturdy and safe handle more? It's exhausting to even think about Fortis Developments' small city built inside an historic neighborhood of brownstones. It shows a depraved recklessness on the part of SUNY and the Governor, for not making any proviso for purchasing the bungled SUNY- LICH property.

SUNY bailed themselves out by maximizing profits from the sale, by not making any stipulations to the purchase of the buildings at the shoplifter's rate of 240 million dollars; when you think about the numbers Fortis will make from the development, the purchase price is a drop in the bucket. An unconditional, unrestricted tour de force of exploitation of public property for a developer to splash around in.

Mayor De Blasio remains silent on the matter that helped get him elected. Ultimately Fortis is not so much the enemy, as it is an avaricious entity, driven by its own agenda and could care less whether or not they turn Cobble Hill into Pottersville. They're not in business to be nice. Like Bankers, an outside force has to say, "Okay kids, stop lighting matches so near my house, and by the way, I think I smell gas." But then there is another issue here to consider according to Cobble Hill Associations Buzz Doherty:" When Fortis purchased the property the state allowed them to close in multiple phases, with tax payers' money financing the deal. The state is not allowed to do that when it sells property." Hmmm...The other bidders were not allowed the same deal. Hmmm...Odd.

Fortunately, there are heroes who give the residents hope to believe that some common sense will prevail and that some of their elected officials' have their backs. With the devoted Cobble Hill Association, Councilman Brad Lander, Assembly woman Jo Anne Simon, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and New York Democratic State Senate Member, Daniel Squadron, the champions of Cobble Hill. They were unanimously in agreement with the community that these towers should not be built. They have been fighting since the inception of this bad deal and before, and they are committed to seeing it through.

Speaking for the community, Councilman Brad Lander explained his position, "Cobble Hill has been forced to make a painful choice -- between two wildly out-of-scale options -- over future development by the Fortis Property Group on the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site. Together, we've fought hard over the last few months to try to make the situation better. The Cobble Hill Association, the other elected officials, and I have talked to hundreds of neighbors, in meetings large and small. Between those two choices, the community is very clear it does not want and doesn't support the rezoning and I don't support it either. That's not to say people want the as-of-right plan, but presented with those two choices, there's not a willingness to rezone. So I don't support the rezoning that Fortis proposed."

New Yorkers need to be vigilant and protect their city from over zealous development before it's too late. Whether Fortis' Development will even include affordable housing in their equation is in question, which speaks to the concerns of so many native New Yorkers. We need our politicians to make sense and keep New York's character and beauty unspoiled. We cannot keep building at this rate and keep life in all the boroughs safe, healthy and balanced. My guess is the suburbs are looking like a possibility again for lots of folks. Cobble Hill is just one of many neighborhoods going through this very painful change; hopefully it will weather the storm to see a better end than is planned for its future by Fortis.