CB 6 reverses committee decision on nursing home, by George Fiala

In a meeting of the full board at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Community Board 6 reversed the decision of its Land Use committee and voted to favor the zoning application of the Oxford Nursing Home to build an 8 story nursing home in the middle of Red Hook.

Peter Fleming, Landmarks Committee Chairman, gives background to the full board. Jerry Armer is in the background.

Victoria Hagman’s committee motion to deny approval of the proposed zoning change, which passed by an 11-6 vote with 1 abstention the previous Thursday was overturned by a 25-7 margin. Jerry Armer then introduced a new motion approving the plan, with the proviso that a letter presented by Oxford’s owner to CB 6 Chairman Gary Reilly be passed along with the approval, as well as a promise by Oxford not to cut and run once a changed zoning designation increases the value of their property.

In the end, it was that letter which turned the tide for Oxford. Nora Martins, of Davidoff, Hutcher and Citron, a government relations law firm hired by Oxford to push their application through the city process, made sure that every CB 6 member received a copy of the letter as they walked in. The portion of the Red Hook community that felt that the nursing home was not appropriate for the neighborhood was represented by CB 6 member Hagman, who apologized for being a bit sick, which may have affected her comments in the session. Both Elsie Felder and Frances Brown, two other board members who live in Red Hook, both spoke in favor of the proposal. Frances Brown is President of the Red Hook East Tenant Association.

As recounted in a Star-Revue story on the committee meeting, the Red Hook Red Hook Rising committee had met with the Oxford team and produced their own powerful letter against the proposal. Among the concerns was that a new nursing home facility in a flood zone might jeopardize an already promised $100 million FEMA resiliency grant. That letter, which could have raised legitimate concerns about the appropriateness of the nursing home, was not circulated.

The Borough Hall courthouse is the scene for the December General Meeting for CB 6.

Board members read the letter signed by Oxford owner Barry Braunstein which said that an “advantage for the community relates to the fact that the site is located on the periphery of the mixed residential/commercial corridor of Van Brunt Street and the manufacturing district to the west, but still within walking distance of NYCHA’s Red Hook East and West developments, which together house over 6.500 residents.”

Members also read that Oxford’s “careful design and emergency planning, which is regulated and closely monitored by both the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYS Dept. of Health,” addresses concerns about building a nursing home in a flood plain.

The letter went on to say that the site is an “excellent location for the proposed nursing home and health care facility, including its central location in Red HOok, the size and minimal development of the site, and the fact that Community Board 6 is severely underserved, having on one other nursing home, the Cobble Hill Health Center.”

Addressing fears expressed at the committee meeting, Braunstein put into writing that “we have absolutely no intention of developing any residential use at this site, nor do we intend to sell the development in the future. We have committed for over a decade now to getting this replacement nursing home build, from obtaining Department of Health approval to achieving removal from the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone, to pursuing the necessary land use approvals that are now before you. It bears emphasis that since the residential FAR under the proposed rezoning is significantly less than the community facility FAR that is allowed for our proposed nursing home and health care center, the proposed building could not be converted at a later date for residential use.”

Oxford’s letter was addressed to CB 6 Chairman Gary Reilly. The letter from NY Rising was written to City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who has actually come out against the plan due to flood plain issues.

The Rising letter contained a number of points that were not brought up in the general session preceding the vote.  These included the following:

FAR + BULK: asking to increase allowable buildable square footage
1 – Oxford is proposing an 8-story building within the heart of low-rise building typology. Aside from the typical 6-story NYCHA properties that are much further to the east, there are VERY few buildings greater than 3-4 stories. The proposed building would be a behemoth, destroying the low-rise character. In terms of bulk, a project in the scale of 4 to 5 stories would be acceptable to the Committee.

2. Increasing the FAR in a flood zone for a vulnerable population is simply not appropriate. This would encourage the development in such a zone for vulnerable populations.

3. Red Hook is often described as an “open sky” landscape. View corridors are critical to the experience. Such height across the swath of an entire block would have a serious impact on the skyline of Red Hook. This is a very serious issue. If such consideration is given, a door will be opened for much greater density and height exceptions, transforming Red Hook’s essential historic character, an asset that should be strenuously protected.

1. Red Hook has raised power lines, and an electrical power grid that will be strained over the coming years, as a load pocket for ConEdison. Greater and greater construction on this area will further exacerbate the power outages, already experienced at various times during the year. The proposal will have on-site gas fired generators, which can be loud and polluting. They have not offered evidence or interest to be powered by a quieter and low-carbon solar system or other more beneficial, environmentally conscious, and resilient type of power. The CRP committee seeks projects and supports efforts that contribute to overall and achievable resilient measures in all aspects of design.

2. Red Hook’s sewer system is currently over-taxed, resident homes flood in a small 1 or 2-inch rainfall. The project’s proposed addition of 200 residents + staff + emergency care patients / staff, will have a very large impact on the storm water system, and sewer system. Oxford will not be providing any storm water retention / detention system, and therefore such a building will have sincere negative effect on an already over-burdened water and waste infrastructure.

1. Roadway infrastructure– currently our major arteries are two-lanes with weekday traffic patterns becoming increasingly congested as development increases population. In addition, those arteries carry a large number of trucks and buses, often causing back-up and street disruption on a daily basis during commuting hours. Red Hook’s lack of public transport and proximity to the subway, forces many workers to depend on driving or taking car services. Fairway and the congestion it has brought is a clear example.

The Oxford plan, having the community board approval, next goes to Borough President Eric Adams, for his consideration. It then goes to the Department of City Planning (DCP) , who will hold public hearings before casting their decision. If DCP approves, it then goes to the City Council, who will cast the final vote (although the Mayor can veto an approval, which then would require a 2/3rd City Council vote to override).


About Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP

Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP www.dhclegal.com, which has 48 attorneys in offices in New York City, Albany, Washington D.C., and Garden City, Long Island, provides legal and government relations services for a varied clientele that include Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, prominent real estate organizations, developers, leading health and educational institutions, associations and services organizations, as well as other industries throughout the greater metropolitan area.

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