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GOWANUS SURPRISE

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A local developer backed by an Israeli real estate development company plans to turn a contaminated site along the Gowanus Canal into 350 condominium and rental units, The Brooklyn Papers has learned.

The tentatively named Gowanus Village would consist of four- to six-story townhouses and 10-story loft buildings on a more than two-acre site bounded by the canal, Third Avenue, and Carroll and Third streets, according to a listing of residential projects on the Web site of Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., which has partnered with Brooklyn developer Shaya Boymelgreen on several projects.

It would mark the first large-scale residential development along the long-polluted canal, which in recent years has grown cleaner thanks to the efforts of community activists and elected officials.

With the resumption of the flushing tunnel, which keeps water flowing through the long-stagnant canal, environmentalists have seen oysters thrive and other, more uncommon aquatic life pass through the industrially polluted canal. Last year, a passing seal even hopped ashore on the Red Hook end. More noticeably, the canal’s once horrific stench has dramatically decreased.

The Gowanus-side development would yield one-, two- and three-bedroom units totaling 375,000 square feet with a projected completion date of 2007, according to the Web site.

The other local projects planned or currently being built by A.I. & Boymelgreen — which changed its name to Leviev Boymelgreen recently to reflect the principals of both companies — include the conversion of the historic Empire Stores in DUMBO into a shopping mall and cultural center that would be part of the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park; a condo and boutique hotel at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street; luxury condominium high-rises at 35-45 Front St., 84 Front St. and 85 Adams St., all in DUMBO; and a massive, 1.1 million-square-foot condominium conversion of the former Pecter’s Bakery site at 800 Pacific St., within the footprint of fellow developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards basketball arena, residential and office mega-development in Prospect Heights.

Under the corporate name Gowanus Village 1 LLC, Leviev Boymelgreen has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Brownfield Cleanup Program for the site at 430 Carroll St./153 Second St. According to the DEC Web site, the company proposes to clean up the contaminated site, under DEC oversight, so that residential uses can be developed there.

Word of the project sent out alarms this week among some community members who read the company’s Web site posting to mean the project had already been approved, the land rezoned from industrial to residential use, and had somehow sidestepped the rigorous city Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Although any project requires a city-approved zoning change in order to go from manufacturing use to residential, some community members feared that because the developers had applied to the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, that may have given them leverage to build as-of-right.

Sara Mirski, development director for Leviev Boymelgreen, said that was not the case and that the posting on the Africa-Israel Web site was premature. (It was taken down after queries by this newspaper.)

“I almost had a heart attack,” said Mirski, when she discovered that the Gowanus Village summary had been posted on the Web site. “This is not even representative of our application — it’s just based on mapping studies,” she said.

“They shouldn’t have put that on the Internet,” Mirski said, adding that it was out of innocent enthusiasm that the facts and figures were made public.

According to the DEC, Gowanus Village would involve the “redevelopm­ent of an existing abandoned turn-of-the-century warehouse, and approximately 300,000 square feet of housing in new and renovated structures.”

An early environmental assessment, according to the application, recommended removal of rubbish and debris, removal of all underground tanks, three of which were found on the site amid spillage and staining of some, investigation into contamination noticed on the New York State Spills database as well as the Department of Buildings complaints of non-compliant uses, and testing of the soil for hazardous materials, like asbestos and lead-based paint.

A DEC spokeswoman noted that while the bulletin on their own Web site states that the 30-day public comment period on the developer’s application was scheduled to start on Oct. 27, it had been delayed due to the DEC’s own filing problems. Spokeswoman Gabrielle Done assured The Papers that the application would be available for public access at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Carroll Gardens branch, at 396 Clinton St., starting at an upcoming date to be posted on their Web site (www.dec.state.ny.us). Prior to that, she said, the DEC can neither review nor comment on the application.

Done also emphasized that “anything related to zoning would be under the local government’s jurisdiction, not DEC’s.” The project could be required to go through the seven-month ULURP process — which requires public review before the community board, borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council, but would most likely require just a zoning variance, with review by Community Board 6 and then a ruling by the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Mirski said that while the environmental program would make the development process “more difficult for us because the cleanup is scrutinized at a much higher level,” she said it also provided the funding that would make it more profitable to build in a place like the Gowanus Canal.

“Its an important program,” she said, given “the size of the site, the location of the site and the community’s interest” in developing housing near the canal, and the kind of remediation that the long-contaminated land would call for. The application stipulates development by fall 2008.

“I’m getting geared up to support it,” said Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto, president of the Carroll Gardens Association and a founder of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation.

He said Boymelgreen approached him almost a month ago to “let me know what they’re doing and ask what my opinion was.”

Scotto has been an outspoken proponent of residential development along the canal, which he sees as having the potential of San Antonio, Texas. That city managed to beautify their own canal without dredging it. He said his main concern, however, was making sure the developer took advantage of city tax incentive programs to provide an affordable housing component.

“We are desperate for affordable housing and senior citizens’ housing,” Scotto said. “We have senior citizens sleeping in hallways.”
But despite the good intentions, a member of the CB6 land use committee said getting the zoning variance on the eastern side of the canal might be a challenge.

“Two attempts were made in the past to get variances along the canal,” said the board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“[The Board of Standards and Appeals] ruled against all of those,” the source said, adding that he thought both were near where the Gowanus Village site.

Mirski said the project faces seven points of public review under the brownfield program before it even gets to a city review.

Advocates of a working waterfront may also protest, as several local groups prefer to keep the canal area for industrial use.

That, says Scotto, is just a flickering idea left over from a long-gone, 1950s American dream.

“I just don’t think we can do it,” he said. “Do buildings have to fall on people before they understand what is going on? We need housing, we need affordable housing and we need new jobs.”


Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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