It is cliché to say that there is more to learn from failure then there is from success, but there are truths in such familiar sayings. The latest flare up between the neighborhood and the developer, FORTIS, is over the timing and amount of construction noise that has begun as early as 5 am.
There has been some successful community push back on this one small area of concern. However, the rest has been an undeniable loss for the community. Not just Cobble Hill, but all of Brooklyn has much to learn from this loss. We must learn to pay attention not to what people say in front of a community, but what they do to and for the community.
To understand why it is a loss, one must accept that it was destined to be a loss the second the RFP was released.
My grandfather was a proud member of the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA). Long Island College Hospital (LICH), blocks away from the ILA health center, was my family’s go-to hospital.
Now the campus of LICH is no longer a hospital, and last week its developer, FORTIS, announced that it will go ahead with an “as of right” luxury housing project, which means that no zoning change will be required. There will be no compulsion for community benefits, since there is little other than “delay and pray” tactics that can be done to stop it.
How did we get to this point?
Various people, for differing reasons get blamed, from Mayor de Blasio to a former community board chairman, but the original sin from which all else stems was the original SUNY RFP. That RFP set the table for what I fear will become manifest in Cobble Hill.
When I spoke to Councilman Brad Lander about this, he put it succinctly, saying that “a public institution sold off public land for private gain, and we are getting exactly what they said they’d do in response to the RFP.”
With the press focused on the mayor’s inability to get the state to relent on the LICH closing, it has been easy to forget that State University of New York (SUNY) owned, mismanaged and ultimately sold this property pursuant to a RFP it conceived, and that failed to include requirements for a hospital or affordable and senior housing.
This may have upped the sales price, but the lack of provisos left the community without leverage to influence the development.
When the winning bidder does what it said it would do, why act surprised?
All of us concerned about healthcare and affordable housing in NYC organized in opposition to the plan in our community, sat through countless meetings and protests, and even saw a mayoral candidate and elected officials carted off to jail. But now we know it was all over with the RFP and the terms set forth in that document.
So while it was a really flawed process, I can’t help but remember a quote, that at this moment that’s also applicable to the horror show that is the Trump Administration and those that argued he wasn’t that bad, from the great Maya Angelou:
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Michael Racioppo is the Vice Chair of Community Board 6 and the Executive Director of Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation .