How to Influence a Controversy — Add a Website to Your Public Relations Arsenal

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    When the Long Island College Hospital closed in 2014 after a 16-month legal battle, Cobble Hill residents weren’t happy. When developer Fortis Property Group officially signed on to buy the former LICH compound a month later, residents weren’t happy. When Fortis revealed renderings in May for the site’s proposed residential development, residents still weren’t into it.

    But now, a few of the unhappy inhabitants of Cobble Hill have created a virtual location to lobby for what they do want: NoTowersInCobbleHill.org.

    A place for news updates, actionable steps, and donation collection, the “No Towers” site is just the latest in a number of online initiatives helping (and hoping) to shape Brooklyn development.

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    165 West 9th Street, site of a proposed homeless shelter

    Coalition for Carroll Gardens
    In 2013, a Carroll Gardens community group opposed the opening of a homeless shelter at 165 West 9th Street that would have housed 170 men in a building with only 10 apartments. Their website, since taken down, served as an online hub for the community, helping them to rally the support of neighbors and City Councilman Brad Lander.

    The site featured writings on the potentially corrupt selection of the proposed homeless shelter operator, Aguila Inc. After the Department of Buildings conducted a series of audits on Aguila, and after countless neighborhood hearings and a vacate order, the project stalled.

     

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    Preserve Park Slope rendering showing the relative height of the proposed Methodist Hospital development

    Preserve Park Slope
    Last year, when Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital proposed a controversial expansion, a few residents banded together to create PreserveParkSlope.org — a site opposing a building they saw as too tall and ugly. The website proved to be a key organizing tool, showing neighborhood perspectives and images that appealed to the media, helping community activists get their message out.

    The group used the site to publish their own renderings purporting to show the size of the proposed building in relation to the existing neighborhood. Because few official renderings existed, the media picked it up.

    The organization filed a lawsuit challenging the allowed height of the building and eventually reached a settlement with the hospital to reduce the building’s size.

     

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    1Hotel (aka Pierhouse) in February 2015

    Save the View Now
    Last year, when the 1Hotel and Pierhouse condos rose higher than agreements had allowed in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brownstoner broke the story. And a group of concerned citizens created the website Save the View Now to challenge the buildings’ view-blocking height. The site was a crucial tool to raise awareness of the controversy, as well as generate petition signatures and donations to a legal fund.

    Barely a month after going live, the organization helped to prompt a partial stop-work order at the site, and their legal team took Brooklyn Bridge Park and developer Toll Brothers to court. In June, a judge ruled that the height of the buildings did break height agreements, but wasn’t breaking any laws.

     

    Brooklyn Heights Public Library1

    280 Cadman Plaza West
    Community groups aren’t the only ones to use the power of an online platform to shape the story of a development. In June, Hudson Companies — the developer behind the proposed condo tower on the site of the current Brooklyn Heights library branch — created their own site to share information and images about the project.

    The controversial proposal includes replacing the existing library to build a 36-story apartment building with a new library and retail space at the base. In spite of some vocal opposition from the audience, Community Board 2 approved the proposal last week with the addition of a few amendments. A hearing to discuss the plan with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is scheduled for August 18.

     

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    The Cobble Hill LICH site, near the proposed towers. Photo by SUNY Downstate Medical Center

    Websites aren’t new. But they’re becoming a particularly effective tool for communities and companies to increase influence over the narrative of development. Preserve Park Slope was able to get a number of concessions, and the Carroll Gardens homeless shelter received enough attention and intervention that it didn’t open. Save the View Now didn’t succeed in reducing the building’s height, but they have inspired a broader conversation about preserving city views. Hudson Companies’ plans for the library condo are still moving forward.

    Having a website might or might not have been the definitive factor in each of these cases, but from Brownstoner’s perspective, such sites are now a crucial — and we think effective — tool in the public relations arsenal.

    Website links:
    No Towers In Cobble Hill
    Preserve Park Slope
    Save the View Now
    280 Cadman Plaza West

    For more information:
    Park Slope Methodist Hospital Coverage [Brownstoner]
    Long Island College Hospital Coverage [Brownstoner]
    Carroll Gardens Homeless Shelter Coverage [Brownstoner]
    Brooklyn Heights Library Coverage [Brownstoner]

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