The future of the toxic Gowanus Canal zone can be bright — if the waterway is cleaned and thousands of new residential apartments are built, a new report argued this week.
Of course, that conversation starter was expected, given that the report, “Reconsidering Gowanus,” was commissioned by a real-estate institute charged with plotting a course for a corpse of water that the federal government has designated a Superfund clean-up site — a decision that put a halt to several development proposals.
That Big Chill need not be permanent, argued the report, which will be issued today by Baruch College at a forum at Borough Hall.
“An environmentally restored Gowanus area could support an additional 1,500 to 2,000 housing units above those already planned,” the report states.
Those units, of course, are captive to the clean-up of the waterway, one of America’s most-polluted sites. Even under the best-case scenario, that process will take 10 years and cost $400 million.
Some development companies have said the lingering “Superfund Stigma” will make it impossible to ever build in the canal zone.
“There won’t be new housing until the cleanup is done [and] that is 20 years away,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a vice president for Toll Brothers, which opposed Superfund designation and withdrew its plan for a 447-unit luxury complex on the canal after the federal decision was announced in March.
The writers of the report anticipated such naysaying.
“Once the environmental cleanup is well underway … it will be possible to encourage development of new housing and the conversion of older industrial buildings to accommodate the likely influx of new residents drawn by the neighborhood’s easy access to the rest of the city and its unique character,” the report said.
In fact, that process is already happening, despite the stench of a canal that receives hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage every year.
The population of the canal zone is up seven percent since 1990 — a faster growth rate than the adjoining brownstone neighborhoods.
Such growth encouraged some panelists at the Wednesday forum, including Carl Hum, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
“There are still questions remaining … given the Superfund designation,” he said. “But I think the report is welcomed. It starts a conversation.”
The call for more housing might be supported by demographic data, but its actual construction presents serious challenges.
Since the canal was designated a Superfund site, a rezoning plan initiated by the Department of City Planning has been put on indefinite hold — and credit markets remain in permafrost, making large-scale development a challenge.
As such, other recommendations in the report may be tough to pull off, such as the creation of economic sub-zones to nurture everything from heavy manufacturing to artists’ lofts; the construction of a junior high school; the conversion of older industrial buildings into a museum; and the creation of new parks.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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