Psych! City Backtracks on Bellevue Hotel Project

bellevue Psych! City Backtracks on Bellevue Hotel ProjectThe Bloomberg administration has done an about-face on its plan to send the redevelopment of the former Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital though the city’s standard (and intensive) public review process, known among real estate wonks as ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure)—a move that has at least one project opponent fuming.

“This is a cute way of trying to go around the City Council, and I’m confident it will be subject to a legal challenge,” said Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James.

The project in question, announced in March 2008, would turn the fabled institution at First Avenue and 30th Street, which has served the psychiatric needs of legendary, and legendarily unstable, New Yorkers like Eugene O’Neil, Charles Mingus and Allen Ginsberg, into a hotel and conference center.

At the time, according to Ms. James and Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who represents the district in which the former psychiatric hospital is located, the city promised that the project would be subject to ULURP.

A recent letter from the Economic Development Corporation to Community Board 6 Chair Lyle Frank admits as much, explaining that the city’s Law Department determined, upon further review, that since the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation will lease the property directly to the chosen developer, rather than first transferring the property to EDC, no ULURP is required.

EDC also emphasized that, once a bidder is chosen for redevelopment, the proposal will still go through an extensive public review process, including appearances before the Bellevue Community Advisory Board, Community Board 6, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, and New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. It would further require the approval of the HHC Board of Directors, the City Council, and Mayor Bloomberg.

That might just be enough to satisfy Messrs. Garodnick and Frank.

“If EDC commits to noticing, seeking and getting a recommendation from the community board and borough president, it may not be all that different than a ULURP process,” Mr. Garodnick said.

Ms. James isn’t so sure. The reason she and other Brooklyn pols even give a hoot is that the redevelopment of the hospital has a direct impact on Crown Heights. At the moment, Bellevue houses Manhattan’s largest homeless shelter, with 850 beds, including more than 100 dedicated to homeless men with special needs, according to a recent article in the New York Press. That intake center would be relocated to the Bedford-Atlantic Armory in Crown Heights, one of the more notorious homeless shelters in the system.

“The data and evidence here are clear: You need to maintain an intake center, the front door to the homeless shelter system for homeless men in Manhattan,” said Coalition for the Homeless’s Patrick Magee at a recent press conference, according to NY1. “There is no reason in the world that the city should propose moving that intake center out to Brooklyn.”

The city has since committed to opening another Manhattan intake center in its place, though it has yet to indicate where.

Ms. James argued that the backtracking on the ULURP process removes one of the opposition’s main points of negotiating leverage with the administration. And as far as the replacement public procedures outlined in the letter are concerned, she is dubious.

The “devil is in the details,” Ms. James wrote, in an email.