Toll bros. pass - Condo project clears hurdle

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Casting aside the indecision that had previously deadlocked its members, a Community Board 6 committee gave a measured blessing last week to a controversial residential development planned along the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

The Land Use and Landmarks Committee voted 12-1 in favor of Toll Brothers proposal, which imagines a sprawling 605,380-square-foot development with 477 residential units on two city blocks bounded by Bond Street, 2nd Street, Carroll Street and the canal.

In the grand scheme of things, some board members argued, luxury buildings will be good for the canal, one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.

“I think the canal will get cleaned up faster if there is more clout in the neighborho­od,” said committee member Jeff Strabone, who voted in favor of the project.

“I am willing to accept the argument that the canal will get cleaned up faster if we put 300 fat cats next to it,” he said.

Toll, the country’s largest homebuilder, will build the market rate housing, which will be condominiums. L&M Equities will develop the plan’s approximately 140 affordable units, which will be rentals to be made available through a lottery system.

At its late September meeting, committee members seemed swayed by those who said the project, which includes two 12-story buildings, would be wildly out of context with the surrounding, low-rise neighborhood.

At the time, local architects Chris McVoy and John Hathaway showed the committee images they claimed showed the true impact of a 12-story building, depicted in their renderings in blood red ink, towering above the neighborhood.

But at the committee’s Oct. 23 meeting, Toll’s architect Navid Maqami disputed the duo’s presentation. He showed computer generated renderings superimposed on McVoy and Hathaway’s work—clearly showing that the 12-story building would be not be visible form the distance the pair claimed.

“What you represented last time was 160-feet tall,” Maqami said.

McVoy conceded that the building, “may not have been as high as we showed it, because we didn’t have accurate computer models.”

“I would agree that our red line is probably too high,” he added.

Still, McVoy maintained that 12-story buildings would have “a significant impact” on the fabric of the neighborhood and potentially compromise a park planned along the waterway.

Maqami, a principal with Greenberg Farrow Architects, said the 12-story portion of the project represents just eight percent of the development. Not varying building heights would result in a monolithic design on two city blocks.

“I think it would be disastrous,” Maqami said.

Along with the residential component, the project calls for 1,500 square feet of commercial space, 1,500 square feet of community facility space and 268 parking spaces, all above ground.

The project is proceeding ahead of a region-wide rezoning, which critics say amounts to spot-zoning. The Department of City Planning, which is leading the rezoning proposal, has stated that the project is “broadly consistent” with the parameters set forth in a planning framework the agency says was hatched with broad community input. In that framework, building heights of up to 12 stories, with an 80-foot setback, were seen as acceptable.

The full board will weigh the matter at its Nov. 12 meeting, whose location has yet to be announced. Check for details. Both the committee’s vote and the board’s eventual vote are strictly advisory.

Toll is seeking a zoning change, as the land sits in an area zoned for manufacturing use. It also will need the city to consent to the creation of a special mixed use district, and will require a special permit for general large scale development.

As part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, as the lengthy public review is known, the matter will also be reviewed by the borough president, Department of City Planning and City Council.

To its recommendation, the committee attached a series of restrictions, including one that would somehow hold an entity responsible for making sure that this massive, multi-million dollar development “does not set a precedent for other projects in the Gowanus corridor.”

Committee member Lou Sones, who abstained, said that particular restriction seems “ineffective.”

“The committee wants to send the message that we are approving the project but we don’t like the spot-zoning aspect of it, and therefore we don’t want other developers doing the same thing,” he said.

“A strong stand is a disapproval,” Sones added.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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