Gowanus condo plan advances, but councilman Brad Lander warns there will be flood

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The development company Lightstone Group won’t let Hurricane Sandy — or an angry councilman — stand in the way of its plans to construct a massive housing complex on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

The real estate firm is marching ahead with its proposal to build a controversial 700-unit development on Bond Street between Carroll and Second streets despite severe flooding in the neighborhood and the vocal opposition of Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus).

“The Lightstone Group is fully committed to the development of its Gowanus Canal project in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood and will move forward to build a high-quality, environmentally-sound residential complex,” the company said in a statement released to The Brooklyn Paper.

News that the project will advance comes after Lander penned an open letter to Lightstone Group CEO David Lichtenstein last week urging the company to drop its plans — and claiming a residential development at the site would put future tenants in danger.

“It would be a serious mistake for you to proceed as though nothing had happened, without reconsidering or altering your plans, and putting over 1,000 new residents in harm’s way the next time an event of this magnitude occurs,” Lander wrote.

Lightstone Group spokesman Ethan Geto said his company “violently objects” to the suggestion the development would put prospective residents in jeopardy and claims he does not foresee flooding to be an issue because the project will be “elevated significantly above sidewalk level.”

“If we were going to build a project that would be vulnerable to flooding in a major storm like Hurricane Sandy we might as well not build the project — it wouldn’t be economically viable,” said Geto,

Geto insists the Lightstone project will be able to withstand extreme weather conditions as designed, but added that the company is going to “evaluate the design in the context of Hurricane Sandy” by consulting with environmental agencies and engineers.

“We will refine the project if we need to,” said Geto. “If our data suggests it needs to be further elevated … we will do it. We are going to build a project that won’t be flooded,” said Geto.

The complex’s lobby will be steps above street level and its electrical equipment will get extra protection, according to Geto.

“We will elevate the basement to a level where we believe it won’t be flooded,” he said. “If there is some water that would get into low ground spaces we will design and locate mechanical equipment to protect it from flooding by insulating all of the electrical wires, systems and cables.”

The proposed canal-abutting development has been contentious from its start, when the luxury home builders Toll Brothers won a hard-fought rezoning to permit housing on the site, then scrapped the plan after the Environmental Protection Agency named the fetid Gowanus Canal a Superfund site requiring a lengthy and costly federal cleanup.

This summer, Lightstone Group picked up where Toll Brothers left off — bypassing much of the city’s land-use review process by advancing a similar proposal that will rise no more than 12 stories above the waterway.

But unlike the 500 condos that Toll Brothers suggested, Lightstone Group wants to construct an additional 200 units by filling the building with smaller rentals.

Before work begins, Lightstone Group must gain the approval of the City Planning Commission — where Lander says he will lobby against the development.

Geto says Lander should be an ally of his company — not an opponent.

“We are setting a standard here that will be a model for future development on the Gowanus Canal and [Lander] should be pleased by that,” he said.

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Reader Feedback

Gene Wall from Boerrum Hill says:
Councilman Brad Lander doesn't have to live there if he's worried about floods.
If he wants to do something useful, he should petition the MTA to add service to the rush hour commuters. And if he's worried about overcrowding in the neighborhood, he should consider moving to the country side.
Nov. 19, 2012, 12:17 pm
Gene Wall from Boerrum Hill says:
Councilman Brad Lander doesn't have to live there if he's worried about floods.
If he wants to do something useful, he should petition the MTA to add service to the rush hour commuters. And if he's worried about overcrowding in the neighborhood, he should consider moving to the country side.
Nov. 19, 2012, 12:17 pm
Paul from Boerum Hill says:
I am so sick of those ignorant people who say "If you don't like this particular awful idea, you can move." They always say that when they are busting up a neighborhood that people invested their life savings to move into. Insulting and ignorant. The current residents are supposed to have ownership rights, and Lander is an elected official standing up for the community he represents.

And there's only one "R" in Boerum Hill, which you'd know if you actually lived there.
Nov. 19, 2012, 1:03 pm
K. from ArKady says:
What's the problem with a little floodwater and leukemia? It's well worth the 1200/month for that studio overlooking the open sewer.
Nov. 19, 2012, 1:03 pm
Roy from Cobble Hill says:
Councilman Lander took a courageous step that will both protect potential new residents and encourage the city to remdiate the "Love Canal" in our midst. He is to be applauded.
Nov. 19, 2012, 10:21 pm
scott from park slope says:
moves to redevelop gowanus as a residential area are welcome. the creek once produced fresh water oysters the size of dinner plates that were exported to Europe. its history as an industrial sewer has been less illustrious.

as a residential magnet the gowanus could be the Venice of Brooklyn. it already hosts the largest artist colony on the Eastern seaboard. it's surrounded by progressive, creative neighborhoods chock full of hacker spaces, entrepreneurs, and innovators of every stripe, along with their families. it ought to be something greater again.
Nov. 20, 2012, 11:45 am
JAY from NYC says:
I am not a fan of Lander, but he is right about this, Gowanus has zero business being a housing development. It apparently can NOT even be cleaned up to make it safe through the superfund efforts, which after they are done, the area will still be totally toxic. This area is simply unable to be made safe for people to live at.
Nov. 20, 2012, 5:59 pm
Joe from Gowanus says:
Politicians should avoid abusing a disaster to promote their popularity. Our Councilman is well aware of the new residential high-density developments in Greenpoint, who evacuated tenants and they all returned home in time for Halloween. New buildings in NYC’s flood zones were off-line for a few hours.

The high cost of contamination removal dictates the size of Gowanus developments so the alternative is to leave the contamination for future generations and kick the can down the road (or eliminate the 14 affordable housing units). The Feds are ignoring our national debt and the EPA ignores the CSO contribution to our waterway. Fortunately, our City is taking a proactive approach - Bravo!
Nov. 21, 2012, 12:52 pm
Gene Wall from Boerum Hill says:
I do live I the community, and I agree that people who spend their money to buy property should have a say.
That's why I believe if someone buys property and they want to build on it, they should be allowed to do within the zoning guidelines.
But I don't agree that the canal is currently being used to it's potential. Not sure what those who oppose development would like to do with it or how they expect to pay to do it.
And just as tired as you are of me, I'm tired of those who move to this ever changing dynamic city, but then expect things to stay just as they are forever. The city has to grow by 1 million people... where exactly are these people going to live? Why not in OUR backyard?

To say this development can not happen because of flooding is utter BS.
OK, there will be flooding, we know that. You may not get a seat on the subway, sorry. But the solution is not to do away with development altogether but to build something with future flooding in mind, increase capacity on the subway, invest in more infrastructure, clean up the canal, etc. But this will only happen when there is more money coming in from RETaxes, more people in the neighborhoods census, etc.

I get the feeling if it were up to you, the neighborhood would still be farmland. I'm sure there was some one just as opposed to the development of the home you currently live in now, way back when, as you are opposed to this future one.
Nov. 21, 2012, 1:07 pm

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