Toll Brothers is officially stigmatized by the Superfund

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The “Superfund stigma” has claimed its first victim, as a development company that once envisioned a 500-unit complex along the banks of the fetid Gowanus Canal has officially bailed on its five-year pursuit of the project saying that it can’t wait for the federal government to complete its proposed 10-plus year clean-up.

Toll Brothers walked away from a $5.75-million down payment it had made on canal-front land just south of the Carroll Street bridge, making good on a promise to abandon its plan if the federal government designated the waterway a Superfund site, as it did in March.

“It just didn’t financially make sense to close on the properties and then have to wait 15 to 20 years until we could develop them,” said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president for the mostly suburban development company. “Fifteen years of having our money out the door and not having a return didn’t make financial sense.”

Toll had entered a contract to purchase the property from Joseph Phillips and Citibank in 2004, and made its down payment on the eventual purchase price of $20.6 million, according to court papers filed last year.

“They are keeping the property and we made non-refundable deposits,” Von Spreckelsen said, referring to a settlement of the case that was quietly made last month.

Had the project advanced, Toll would have purchased a total of three parcels on two adjoining blocks to build a mixed-income project with 477 apartments in a complex of townhouses and buildings scaling as high as 12 stories.

That vision had already worked its way through the city’s land-use review process. As a result, Toll was one of many developers and property owners who blasted the Environmental Protection Agency for naming the canal a Superfund site, arguing that the stigma of the designation would forestall development for years.

“These were never just idle threats,” Von Spreckelsen said. “I spent five years of my life working on getting this done, and I don’t think anything is going to happen there for a very long time.”

The city opposed the designation and predicted it would jeopardize more than $400 million of private investment, including the Toll Brothers complex.

The EPA was mum about Toll’s departure, putting out a statement that the agency “continues to focus on the extensive investigation into the contamination of the canal [to] ensure the health and safety of the surrounding community through an effective cleanup,” which is expected to cost $500 million.

Superfund supporters said good riddance to Toll — which last week was ranked first among home building companies in Fortune Magazine’s “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

“This is the right thing for the Gowanus corridor,” said area resident Linda Mariano. “The land might sit there for now, but we still have a future. We want healthy water and healthy land and open space. It shouldn’t just be for people who live in condos and co-ops.”

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Reader Feedback

Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Sure, Toll Bros., it's the EPA's fault. Of course this had nothing to do with the thousands of hastily built, real estate-bubble fueled condos that sit vacant in Brooklyn.

July 9, 2010, 9:43 am
J from BK says:
Call it whatever you want... It is horribly and polluted and nobody should be exposing humans to that mess until it is cleaned up. It'll be a beautiful area one day and the developers will be able to have a field day... But not yet. On a side not, anyone who voluntarily exposes their family to those toxins by buying a home there is NUTS.
July 9, 2010, 10:04 am
Gowanus Troll from Gowanus says:
Hey, David Von Sprekelsen,
I am surprised that Toll didn't fire you for wasting 5 years of your life trying to build housing on polluted land, next to a toxic canal.

It was a terrible idea from the get go.
July 9, 2010, 10:44 am
gowanee from guess says:
Toll walked away, but not before the demolition done for them of the all concrete building that was recommended for landmarking. That should NEVER have happened. They should be SUED!!!!!
July 9, 2010, 11:26 am
Any Mouse from Any Where says:
Toll is hanging it up "saying that it can’t wait for the federal government to complete its proposed 10-plus year clean-up."

Didn't the City say it would take the same amount of time to clean it under their alternative plan?

Guess it wasn't the Superfund declaration - just the fact that the GOWANUS IS UNFIT TO HOST HUMAN HABITATION.

Housing: Gowanus = Square peg: round hole.
July 9, 2010, 1:18 pm
Yvess Saint Laurent Shoes from says:
The reason the Manolo has avoided writing about these shoes is that he does not particularly care for them, and because it is the policy of the Manolo to avoid whenever possible becoming involved in the extraordinary popular delusions and in the madness of the crowds.
July 9, 2010, 11:01 pm
Charles from Park Slope says:
Hopefully they'll take their banal pedestrian designs with them.
July 10, 2010, 9:17 am
lisanne from gowanus says:
“I spent five years of my life working on getting this done, and I don’t think anything is going to happen there for a very long time.”

And it shouldn't and you shouldn't of thought that it was OK to build on a toxic brownfield and effect the local residents lives for way more than your five years!

His idignation cracks me up!
July 10, 2010, 11:44 am
margaret from gowanus says:
About pulling out if the EPA stepped in, Von Spreckelsen said “These were never just idle threats,” - as if Toll's pulling out was something to be feared. WE CELEBRATE YOUR GETTING THE HELL OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! Hallelujah. You were about to dump a crap on us far worse than the crap in the canal. And Von Spreckelsen was an arrogant, self-serving, unwelcome, speculative, creep we are more than happy not to see the sights of again.
July 11, 2010, 2:24 am
rita from boerum hill says:
Toll number one among the world's most admired companies (Fortune magazine)? I guess they haven't seen the websites/blogs dedicated to complaints about them from people who bought their homes. I'm sure that these disgruntled customers wouldn't rank them #1. for example:
July 11, 2010, 2:29 am
joel from the meadow says:
The EPA work will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to the canal region. These will be real investments generating real improvements in the area; making a healthy environment for the future!
It was clear form the Toll, ULURP, that that project was a negative investment into the region--placing heavy demands on all the over stressed environmental and social resources of the area.
The community has clearly made out under the Superfund deal.
July 12, 2010, 9:31 am
Scottilla from Ditmas Park says:
I still find it hilarious that Toll Brothers is willing to build next to a toxic sewer only until someone threatens to clean it up.

Most admired company?
July 12, 2010, 12:24 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
Good riddance, congrats to the Federal Government for seeing through Bloomnoise and seeing the canal for what it is, a toxic waste dump.
July 16, 2010, 7:37 am
Jef from Bath Beach says:
OK, so once the canal is cleaned, how will it stay that way. The flushing pump always seems to break at one time or another.

I think they should have damed the canal at the mouth and then drained it and filled it in. I would think that would be cheaper and faster to do.
Also, I think it should then just be open park space, why does there have to be over priced condos on every freaking morsel of land?????

Then we wonder why everything is so overcrowded.......
July 16, 2010, 1:43 pm

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