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Revolt against this ‘Toll’

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The suburban luxury homebuilder angling to construct the first major residential project along the Gowanus Canal felt the fury of pent-up anti-development anger this week.

Activists said the neighborhood can’t absorb the Toll Brothers planned 577-unit complex bordered by Bond, Carroll and Second streets and the polluted waterway.

“It’s too dense and overshadows the neighborhood,” said Marilyn Oliva, one of about 40 people at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea meeting room on First Street on Monday night.

In addition to complaints of the physical presence of two 12-story buildings along the canal bank, Toll Brothers reps heard others complain that the project would overwhelm local schools, public transportation and the sewer system.

The debate over supposed overdevelopment of the virtually undeveloped Gowanus zone comes with a certain amount of irony, considering the largely manufacturing area had been a dumping ground for decades, its watery heart as sclerotic as a two-pack-a-day smoker’s.

City officials and other area activists believe that only residential housing development will create a new population of people who are heavily invested in cleaning up the waterway and having it bloom with esplanades, cafes and parkland.

“Ten years ago, I would have gone down on bended knee to get developers into that area,” said Buddy Scotto, a board member of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, which pushes for affordable housing and environmental remediation in the area.

There’s no need to beg now — the Bloomberg administration says it will rezone the manufacturing area and pick a developer for a large parcel to the south of the Toll Brothers site before the mayor leaves office in 2009.

David Von Spreckelsen, a Toll Brothers vice president, called that progress — but he quickly learned that he had stepped into a lion’s den.

“You present it as either we get your development or the canal stays the way it is — that’s a fallacy,” said one man.

Community’s support may be hard to come by, but Toll Brothers has the backing of Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Carroll Gardens).

“A project with 130 units of affordable housing is a win for the community,” DeBlasio told The Brooklyn Paper.

DeBlasio wasn’t at the meeting — his office says he was not invited — but mayoral candidate and current Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Queens) was there, securing a guaranteed bloc of a dozen votes by playing to the anti-development crowd.

“The real-estate industry controls the agenda in this city,” said Avella.

The Department of City Planning will hold a scoping meeting on the Toll Brothers project at 2 pm on March 13 at 22 Reade St. in Manhattan. Call (212) 720-3300 for info.

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Reader Feedback

Irene from Carroll Gardens says:
I am a born and raised Carroll Gardener. This neighborhood is not where I live, it is my HOME. A home is something few people really have, and I am grateful. It makes me sick the way that developers are so keen on making more money and growing instead of going into a community and finding out how best to do it, if at all. We don't need more people in Carroll Gardens. Building houses on the Gowanus canal isn't going to make anyone DO anything about the polution or the smell. It isn't going to changeanything. Scotto says that he wanted to clean it up. SO Why Didn't He? If you want to DO something, you DO it. Talking is nothing but noise. Why not turn it into park space? Why not wetlands so that the soil and water can remediate themselves? Yeah sure, it won't make anyone any money, but wouldn't it be great if we could all go sit in the park and talk to each other? I feel angry and it breaks my heart to feel like a refugee in my own home. I am 21 years old; I want my children to know all their neighbors the way I do, to be able to play baseball in the street the way I did growing up. I want them to feel connected to their home the way I do.
Toll House: Please don't build. Or at the very least, don't build something so trashy and ugly.
March 13, 2009, 1:57 pm

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