Plans for a massive apartment complex on the Gowanus Canal, which aspires to bridge the well-established Brooklyn neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, has so far only divided local neighborhood groups.
Some residents are brainstorming ways to stop the development before it does further damage to the canal, which was designated a Superfund site in 2009 due to its toxic water. Meanwhile, other residents are in favor of the project as they think it will better the Gowanus community by bringing in a new influx of neighbors.
Either way, plans are moving forward with the city’s Department of City Planning for the Lightstone Group’s 700-unit development, which will stretch between Bond and First streets on two acres along the canal.
“Our government is not for the people,” said Linda Mariano. She has lived in Gowanus since 1976, and feels that City Planning has completely neglected residents’ voices. “I hope they will be realistic and listen to the community.”
Mariano is a member of the non-profit Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, which is known locally as FROGG. Mariano and other members have used the phrase, “premature planning,” and feel that no development should take place along the canal before it is significantly cleaned up.
“What will we have here?” FROGG member Marlene Donnelly wondered. “Seven hundred units of tenement housing swimming in our local sewage with black tar still bubbling up from the bottom of the canal.”
For the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, a group that rows on the canal, the Lightstone development has a silver lining. Lightstone has promised the club a 1,000-square-foot boathouse if the project goes through, which would allow them to store their boats and equipment in a waterfront boathouse rather than in an abandoned shipping container.
“One of the most important things to us is that we can have a sense of permanency,” said Ray Howell, who was one of the founders of the club in 1999. “Lightstone will allow us to teach more.”
Owen Foote, another founder of the canoe club, argues that an influx of people would increase the awareness of the canal, as well as the demand and support for local business in an area that now does not even have a convenient grocery store for residents.
“Lightstone won’t help,” said Foote. “But everyone who lives there will.”
While City Planning approved Lightstone’s plans to address sewer overflow during rainstorms, Mariano and her fellow FROGG members are still skeptical of the proposal’s claims to adequately handle the amount of sewage the housing complex will produce.
Residents with similar concerns voiced their concerns at the Sept. 28 Community Board 6 meeting, where the land use committee passed a proposal. The proposal asks that City Planning require another Environmental Impact Survey, that Lightstone make 30 percent of its units affordable, that the maximum height be reduced to eight stories, and that Lightstone hire community board-approved contractors.
Five years ago, City Planning approved a plan for a 447-unit complex proposed by the Toll Brothers, a national residential developer. The company went as far as to rezone the area from industrial to mixed use, which allows for a combination of residential and commercial use. But Toll Brothers backed out once the Gowanus Canal was deemed a Superfund site—which deems an area deserving of federal funding to clean up hazardous waste—in March 2010. This left the newly zoned lot up for grabs.
The changes Lightstone proposed to the Toll Brother’s abandoned plans were deemed “minor modifications” to the previous plan, and therefore the company did not go through nearly as rigorous an approval process. This outraged residents, who preached, begged and practically yelled for the community board demand that City Planning reevaluate.
Few on the board expect City Planning to honor the board’s request, however.
“I would guess that not all of our concerns will be met, but our goal is that they will agree with as many as possible,” said Peter Fleming, chair of the land use committee.
If City Planning does not agree with the Community Board 6 suggestion, Lightstone will have the go-ahead to start construction as soon as 2013.
In the meantime, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus have started an online petition, calling for City Planning to table the project until another Environmental Impact Survey is done. As of now, the petition has 462 signatures. Their next step will be to consider filing an Article 78 procedure, which appeals a decision made by a city or state agency. The article must be filed within four months of City Planning’s decision on how to move forward with the project.
The members also hope the community board will lobby City Planning for a rezoning of the entire area, now that the canal has been designated a Superfund site. Rezoning would mean that City Planning would analyze the feasibility of building on a Superfund site.
“Unless we have it rezoned,” member Glenn Kelly said, “We’ll be fighting this block by block.”
Community Board 6 did not take the recommendations of its land use committee, and instead voted in favor of the Lightstone Group’s proposal last month, with conditions. At its meeting on Oct. 10, the full board voted 27 to 4 (with 6 abstentions) to approve the developer’s plans for 363-365 Bond Street, despite reservations that the Lightstone Group did not follow the boards Responsible Development Policy, and with the condition that the Department of City Planning reactivate a “comprehensive rezoning framework for the Gowanus Canal corridor.” For the full text, go to the “Downloads” section available on the CB6 website available here.
–As featured in the Metropolitan Monitor