New developer proposes housing, public esplanade, environmental upgrades along Gowanus Canal

August 16, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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New to Brooklyn and New York City, the Lightstone Group, a national real estate development and investment firm with its headquarters in Manhattan, is revisiting a plan for housing along the Gowanus Canal.

The firm is not afraid of the existing pollution, the proposed EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund cleanup effort or the potential difficulties of finding future tenants.

It is taking steps to deal with all of those issues, including working closely with the EPA, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the city Department of Environmental Protection.

“Happily, they are very warm to our proposal but, of course, can’t weigh in on it,” said Ethan Geto, a spokesperson for Lightstone. “The EPA has been resistant to some proposals because the parcels are very, very contaminated. But that is not true of ours.”

According to Geto, the agencies are happy with the Lighthouse Group’s plan to clean up the land and create a new public waterfront esplanade, they are happy with its plan to replace the existing and deteriorated bulkhead with a steel sheet pile bulkhead (“the absolute best at preventing contamination both ways”) and they are happy with the millions the developer will also spend on environmental infrastructure, like “a vastly improved” storm sewer system and a new system to clean rainwater before it goes into the canal.

“These efforts will save the EPA and taxpayers millions of  dollars,” said Geto.

Comparing the Lightstone Group housing proposal to the original Gowanus Village plan by Toll Brothers, Geto said it will have the same square footage, the same height but will have more units overall in a different configuration and more affordable units.

Whereas Toll’s plan was for 447 condo units — “skewed for families” — and  130 affordable rental units (29 percent), the new plan calls for 700 rental units — “smaller units, more studios and one-bedrooms” — and 140 affordable units (20 percent).

“We are mandated to build the affordable units, we are committed,” he said, adding that the units will be fully integrated into the development and will not differ in any way from similar-sized units.

The developer is contracting with the Fifth Avenue Committee to handle the affordable housing application and lottery process and has indicated there are thousands of potential applicants in the area who “would be thrilled to have them,” Geto said.

The firm is in the middle of a rezoning process now, but for a “minor modification,” not for a full ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Process), according to Geto, noting that Toll Brothers went through that and won a rezoning in 2009.

The required modification is for the reconfiguration and change in number of units.

In addition to working with the mayor’s office, the planning department and the environmental agencies, the firm has also been doing community outreach, according to Geto. It has already met with the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corp. and the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, both of which were supportive and believe the plan will help to advance the canal’s cleanup.

Upcoming are meetings with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (this week) and the Community Board 6 Land Use Committee (next week).

The City Planning Commission is set to consider it on Sept. 4, the CB 6 Land Use Committee will hold a formal public hearing on Sept. 27, the full CB 6 board on Oct. 10. Then it’s back to the Planning Commission for a late October or early November hearing.

If all goes well, there will be a groundbreaking in September 2013 with completion estimated for December 2015, according to Geto.

Renderings are not available yet. Architect David West of Goldstein, Hill and West Architects is designing the project.

The Lightstone Group is  pleased with its plan, including the proposed 540-foot-long, 50-foot wide fully landscaped publicly-accessible esplanade.

“The Lightstone Group is excited to propose a high-quality residential project on the Gowanus Canal that will provide 140 units of affordable housing, a highly-landscaped, beautiful waterfront esplanade open to the entire community and new environmental infrastructure that will significantly reduce combined sewer overflows into the canal,” said Geto.

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