Elected Officials Call for Extension of 50’ Height Limit to Save LICH

lichToday, Brooklyn elected officials called on the Bloomberg Administration to extend Cobble Hill’s existing 50’ height limit to cover the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) campus, in order to help save LICH and protect Cobble Hill.

In two separate letters, the elected officials called on the Department of City Planning to apply “contextual zoning” to ensure that new construction or additions could not exceed the 50 foot height limit that covers the rest of Cobble Hill, and on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to extend the existing Cobble Hill Historic District to include the LICH campus.

The letters were signed by City Councilmember Brad Lander, Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, State Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and City Councilmember Stephen Levin.

The proposed land use changes would remove the perverse financial incentive for SUNY Downstate to close the much-needed community hospital in order to capitalize on the sale of the real estate it sits on. On February 7th, the Board of SUNY Downstate authorized the hospital to request approval for closure of LICH from the New York State Department of Health.

Justice Betsy Barros of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn has placed a temporary restraining order barring SUNY Downstate from moving forward with the plan, because the board violated the Open Meetings Law in making the decision.

When the Cobble Hill Historic District was designated in 1969 (it was extended in 1988), and the related 50’ height limit was established, LICH was excluded.  As the elected officials wrote, “the community was, and remains today, willing to provide the hospital with flexibility to offer much needed health services to the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.”

“We have serious concerns about SUNY’s plan to sell off essential, public, health care infrastructure, thereby potentially taking financial advantage of the flexibility originally intended for the ongoing provision of healthcare services,” the letter continues.

The elected officials reiterated their desire to work with SUNY Downstate to maintain healthcare services at LICH, which had over 120,000 patient visits last year, including 25,900 to the emergency room, and averaged 90% occupancy in 2012.

Cobble Hill is a historic neighborhood with homes and churches dating back to the early 1800s.  The area was one of the first landmark districts in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Landmarks Preservation Commission, in its 1969 designation report, found that the neighborhood is an “unusually fine 19th century residential area,” that it “retains an aura of the past with its many tree-lined streets,” and that it “has the pleasing quality of relatively low uniform building height.”