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Landmark ‘out’ for hospital

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The Park Slope Civic Council last week agreed to allow a “super sponsor” exemption from its proposal to landmark broader sections of the brownstone enclave.

If the group’s plan is approved, New York Methodist Hospital will be free from the restrictions and prohibitive costs of expanding in a historically landmarked district, under the terms of a non-legally binding pact approved by the group’s at its Sept. 10 meeting.

“They have expansion needs that would be difficult to keep in a historic district,” said civic council president Ken Freeman.The civic group reasoned that it was better to exclude the hospital rather than face its ire — and assured opposition to its ambitious new landmarking proposal, which seeks to significantly expand the historic district.

If the hospital were to be included, Freeman said, “We think they will oppose the expansion and tie it up for a long time.” “And take away your cookies,” joked trustee Lyn Hill, who is a spokesperson for Methodist.

The civic association holds its monthly meetings at the hospital, where refreshments—and cookies—are typically provided.Methodist was the group’s lone so-called “super sponsor,” a title that earned it a logo on the civic’s Web site, Freeman said. The sponsorship, he noted, helped the civic hire a consultant to help with its fundraising efforts. The hospital has not donated any other money to the civic, Freeman said.

The civic’s plan encompasses more than 5,000 buildings in an area bounded by Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Park West, 15th Street, and Fifth Avenue. It is in the process of trying to win community support for the plan, which will have to be approved by the city’s Landmarks preservation Commission. The agreement, which passed 17-3 with three abstentions, makes the two square blocks between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and Seventh and Eighth Avenues occupied by the hospital exempt from the proposal.

The agreement calls on the hospital to submit renderings and acopy of any proposed plan to the civic council and Community Board 6 prior to its seeking permits for any construction or development, and to give “serious considerat­ion” to the comments raised by the community.

Trustee Bernard Graham, a civil court judge, observed that the pact “has no teeth at all.” “It’s just a handshake and say, ‘let’s try to work together down the road.’” He added, “By excluding them from [landmark status] we are giving up a lot of leverage.”

Hill agreed that the pact is simply a “friendly agreement.” But she said the hospital has had a long history of working “extensively” with the community. In fact, she said, an architect for a building on Seventh Street was designed by Carl Kaiserman, a former trustee of the civic association. “You should know fairly confidently that the hospital cares about the community,” she said.

“The hospital is not only willing to listen, it gets benefits from listening,” she said, referring to an improved design for its medical pavilion on Seventh Avenue that was tweaked thanks to public input.

Hill said the pact simply gives the hospital freedom to grow, or not. “For all I know, we may need less space,” she said.

Civic Trustee Peter Bray said the pact is simply an embodiment of “the good will between the hospital and the community.” Still, he said, “there’s a lot power to it.”

Freeman agreed. “We can embarrass them,” he said.

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