Gowanus residents wanted a park. Instead, they’re getting ‘colossal’ buildings.
Carroll Gardens and Gowanus residents gave a contentious reception to a plan to develop high-rise housing on a city-owned site beside the Gowanus Canal that was designated for public recreational use in the 1970s.
The 5.8-acre site on the corner of Smith and Fifth streets, once a gas plant, has sat empty for decades. When the city acquired it through condemnation, it was designated as a “public place,” meaning residential development was not allowed there. Plans to redevelop the area have been in the works since 2008. On Monday night at a Community Board 6 meeting, architects and developers unveiled their new design for the Public Place site: “Gowanus Green,” a multi-building complex with 950 apartments, a public school, shops, a community facility and rain gardens to absorb stormwater.
In the new plan, buildings on the site will range in height from a five-story school to a 28-story tower, the designers said. Neighbors, however, blasted the development proposal, saying they hoped the whole area would be turned into a park.
“Don’t wreck our neighborhood, please,” one community resident said at the meeting. He argued that Gowanus Green’s “colossal buildings” would be out of place in the low-scale neighborhood. Others attending the meeting, also concerned about high-rise construction, joined in on his objections.
The city’s original public place designation was meant to “provide land for badly needed recreational space,” according to a 1974 City Planning Commission document posted on the blog Pardon Me for Asking.
The 5.8-acre site includes a 1.5-acre public park, the design of which would fall not to the developers behind the Public Place site but to the city’s Parks Department.
Residents were upset to learn that only a small slice of the lot would be a park, having long thought the city’s intention was to use the entire footprint for recreational space, Linda Mariano, co-founder of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, told the developers at Monday night’s CB6 meeting. She called the Gowanus Green design plan “completely out of context” and said it doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.
The property in question is the largest city-owned site in the Gowanus rezoning area. If enacted, the proposed rezoning will allow for the development of more than 8,000 apartments in the vicinity of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.
Executives from Hudson Cos., Jonathan Rose Cos., Bluestone Organization and the Fifth Avenue Committee, which make up the development team, fielded angry questions at Monday night’s meeting alongside architects from Marvel Architects and SCAPE .
The team’s initial plan for the site was put on hold after the Gowanus Canal was declared a federal Superfund cleanup site in 2010, and the new plan incorporates some ideas generated in public workshops held last year.
An as-yet undetermined number of the apartments will be affordable units.
City Councilmember Brad Lander, who attended the meeting, pressed the developers for details about the income levels for potential tenants. The developers said those levels haven’t yet been finalized.
Jay Marcus of the Fifth Avenue Committee said the developers want a portion of the apartments to be set aside for residents who earn as little as 30 percent of Area Median Income, which is $22,410 per year for individuals. He said the city wants the earnings levels for the affordable units to go as high as 120 percent of AMI, which is $89,640 per year for individuals.
CB6 had wanted all of the Gowanus Green apartments to be affordable units, but developers said at the meeting that a portion of them will be market-rate.
The developers also haven’t yet determined the size of the public school or whether it will be a grade school, middle school or high school.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing brownfield remediation at the site, where coal tar has seeped into the ground 153 feet below its surface.
“The contamination is dramatic here,” one resident said at the meeting.
The toxic coal tar was left behind by a previous occupant of the site, Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant, which made gas for cooking and heating.
Story updated with the addition of a rendering.
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