In July of 2013, New York Methodist Hospital (NYM) announced plans to build a nearly 500,000 square foot, 160 foot tall outpatient facility, which it calls the Center for Community Health (CCH), on Hospital-owned property between Fifth Street, Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street, directly across from the Hospital’s existing inpatient buildings. The proposal required multiple zoning variances, and therefore was subject to a public review process.1
In response to these plans, Preserve Park Slope (PPS) was founded, with the stated mission of “safeguarding the many distinctive characteristics of Brownstone Brooklyn while ensuring a high quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors by supporting thoughtful development and economic growth.”
As the public review process proceeded, Preserve Park Slope mounted a vigorous campaign to press for a project that would be more in harmony with its surroundings, both in appearance and activity. The campaign generated the active support of over 1,000 community members, and attracted a great deal of press coverage.
When New York City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) granted the zoning variances that NYM requested, PPS mounted a legal challenge to the decision on the grounds that it was based on an erroneous interpretation of a condition that granted special exemptions and extraordinary deference to educational institutions and that the environmental review process was flawed because it did not compare the impacts of the proposed building with existing conditions.
From the beginning, PPS was concerned that official renderings were not being publicly released, and those that were did not truly relay the scale and context of the proposal. Therefore, PPS members created renderings and simulations based on careful study of the detailed elevations and floor plans submitted by NYM’s architects. PPS also developed several videos to help educate about the proposal. These images and videos were circulated in the community, which helped generate support for a more thoughtful solution.
On January 8, 2015, New York Methodist Hospital and Preserve Park Slope announced the settlement of the litigation commenced by PPS, which challenged the approval of the variances by the BSA. The Settlement Agreement between NYM, PPS, and the City’s Corporation Counsel was approved by Justice Alexander Hunter of the New York State Supreme Court.
In the settlement agreement, NYM agreed to significant changes in the size and configuration of the CCH building, as well as to develop and implement an operational traffic management plan developed by a mutually retained traffic expert paid for by NYM. The goal of the plan will be to reduce the use of residential streets by vehicular traffic related to NYM’s facilities, to limit the impact of the building’s loading dock on neighbors and nearby schools, and to address on-street parking. The complete agreement can be viewed here. Some of the key elements of the settlement include:
- The Hospital eliminated plans for the seventh floor of the new building, consisting of approximately 28,000 square feet of space, thereby reducing the height of the CCH building by approximately 14 feet.
- A pedestrian entrance planned for the corner of Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street will be relocated to Sixth Street, off Eighth Avenue, to help preserve the residential nature of Eighth Avenue.
- A landscaped area will be added along the portion of the CCH building that fronts on Eighth Avenue.
- NYM will pay for a traffic engineer (Sam Schwartz Engineering, jointly selected by NYM and PPS) to develop a comprehensive operational traffic management plan.
- Representatives of PPS were included on the Community Design Advisory Committee that provided significant input on the building’s facade design.
- Representatives of PPS are among the Community Construction Advisory Committee (chaired by CB6), which meets each month.
- Representatives of PPS are on the Traffic Task Force established by New York City Council Member Brad Lander..
- Representatives of PPS and a high-level NYM official will meet at least twice each year during the period of demolition and construction to trouble-shoot any problems that may arise.
In April of 2015, the Design Advisory committee held its final meeting, and the following month new renderings were released showing the results of the reduction in height and relocation of the entrance, direct results of the PPS-NYM settlement. Additional results of the collaborative design advisory process included more contextual materials and design elements.
As of October 2015, PPS and NYM remain actively engaged in working with Sam Schwartz Engineering in the development of a comprehensive traffic management plan for the area around NYM. The scope of the project includes not only the effects of the traffic (during and after) construction of the new facility, but also all present and anticipated traffic conditions at the NYM Park Slope Campus related to hospital activity.
PPS remains dedicated to monitoring progress at the site, and maintaining a good relationship with NYM and our community partners, such as CB6 and PSCC. PPS continues to advocate for historic preservation and other issues, such as accessibility. We are delighted to have affected positive change in the community.
1. Although much of the surrounding area is within the Park Slope Historic District, the Department of City Planning (DCP) carved out much of the relevant block from the Park Slope Contextual Rezoning to give NYM flexibility to expand. Sill, NYM chose not to build on the undeveloped area that DCP intended NYM to use; instead it opted to seek a variance to demolish and build within the contextual zone.