Fortis Property Group's River Park Is Inciting a Battle for Cobble Hill

The Polhemus Building, once part of the Long Island College Hospital complex in Cobble Hill, is being converted into sleek condos.Nothing unites a community faster than the threat of change. Three years ago, Long Island College Hospital (LICH), a cluster of buildings near the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street in Brooklyn’s brownstone-rich Cobble Hill, closed its doors after a long period of financial woes. In its place, the Brooklyn-based Fortis Property Group is creating River Park, a commercial housing development comprising three parks and a mix of towers, townhomes, and converted historic structures totaling between 500 and 700 units. Not surprisingly, residents concerned about tall towers overtaking the low-lying neighborhood have come out in force.

When most of the area—including blocks immediately adjacent to the hospital—became part of the Cobble Hill Historic District in 1969, LICH was intentionally left out. “People are up in arms because [Fortis] can legally put towers on the site,” says Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association. But “there’s nothing wrong with what Fortis is doing,” concedes Craig R. Hammerman, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, which includes Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Red Hook, Gowanus, and Park Slope. “It has the right to develop its property in a manner that’s consistent with the local zoning.” The hospital, which was founded in 1858, required exemption from the district, he adds, to stay true to its mission of “delivering modern healthcare. At the time, however, nobody in the community thought that they were ever going to lose the hospital.” Only one structure within the former LICH complex, the 1897 Beaux Arts Polhemus Building—which Manhattan-based BKSK Architects is transforming into 17 condos—has landmark status because of a community effort to preserve its façade in the 1980s. Both the developer and the firms working on the master plan—including BKSK, FXFOWLE Architects, Romines Architecture, and Hill West Architects—have been tight-lipped about the project, but phase one of three, the Polhemus condos and eight ground-up townhouses designed by Romines, came to market last month with a team of Douglas Elliman star brokers including Fredrik Eklund and Alex Maroni.