Today’s news:

Lightstone Group to revive Toll Brothers' Gowanus Canal plans

Another go for housing on the Gowanus

The Brooklyn Paper

A long-dead plan to bring hundreds of apartments to the banks of the Gowanus Canal is rising from its watery grave.

The real estate firm Lightstone Group wants to build a 700-unit housing complex on the shores of the polluted waterway — using a size-and-height proposal nearly identical to a plan by a different developer that was scrapped two years ago after federal environmental authorities determined the inlet needs a costly and lengthy cleanup.

The development would bring rental apartments to a canal-side stretch bounded by Bond, Carroll and Second streets under the same zoning guidelines established when the builders at Toll Brothers convinced the city to allow residences on the parcel, which was previously reserved for manufacturing.

That means the new project will rise no higher than 12 stories — where the Toll Brothers plan was capped.

The development will also bring a landscaped public esplanade to Gowanus, according to Lightstone Group spokesman Ethan Geto.

“It turns the waterfront into what’s essentially a park — it will be a lovely and lively area,” said Geto, who also touted plans to install anti-flooding infrastructure and charge below-market rents for 140 apartments.

Unlike the Toll Brothers proposal, which targeted luxury buyers, the $200 million-plus plan will market itself to young renters seeking studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments — allowing the builders to fit an additional 250 units without needing a change in zoning.

Toll Brothers signed papers to buy the land in 2004, but six years into its plan — and in the midst of a nationwide recession — the company walked away from a $5.75-million down payment, saying a federal Superfund canal cleanup would interfere with the condo project.

Senior vice president David Von Spreckelsen told the press that building housing on the Gowanus Canal was too much of a risk at the time.

“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,” he said back then.

But the Lightstone Group is now hedging its bets on a stronger rental market, saying it could break ground next September if it gets approval from Community Board 6 and the city for minor tweaks to the Toll Brothers’ proposal.

Erasing the Gowanus Canal’s stigma as one of the most polluted waterways in the nation won’t be easy, but some neighbors are cheering the plan, which was first reported by the blog Brownstoner, saying it will make the area more “livable.”

“It’s about time our waterfront got developed,” said longtime canal activist Buddy Scotto.

Other neighbors and urban planning specialists say a tall building at the site would obstruct scenic views and further pollute the waterway.

“[The plan] doesn’t deal with issues of ongoing pollution,” said Jennifer Gardner, who studied the area for months with the research group Gowanus Institute. “Anything built that close to the canal has a potentially negative impact from a water quality perspective.”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

Updated 11:33 am, August 20, 2012: Story updated to correct the possible groundbreaking for the project. The Lightstone Group hopes to begin contsruction next September, not this winter.
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Reader Feedback

ty from pps says:
Can you imagine the smell if the eventual cleanup involves dredging or draining is any way?
Aug. 6, 2012, 8:50 am
Paul from Gowanus says:
Gee, I wonder if any of the Scotto family are involved in this in any way? Isn't his daughter a real estate developer or something?
Aug. 6, 2012, 11:31 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
"Lovely" is not an adjective anyone can use for the Gowanus Canal. This development proposal is an absurdity, and therefore should be halted until the cleanup at least makes the canal safe to live near. Of course, large developers have unfettered political and financial assistance from the city right now, so I guess anything is possible at this point. I would be interested to read the waiver all tenants will have to sign concerning the health effects from living on top of a superfund site.
Aug. 6, 2012, 12:40 pm
BB from Carroll Gardens says:
Here we go again Bloomberg's buddies wanting to build cheap bad rentals that will bring a flood of crap to the canal every time someone flushes a toilet. Holding tanks don't solve the problem. Buddy Scotto should put his efforts in cleaning the over 150 of pollution in the Gowanus instead of pushing for bad apartments with little or no rise in city infrastructure. Developers are not in the clean up business
Aug. 6, 2012, 1:16 pm
Mike from Bay Ridge says:
This is New York: if you build it, they will come. By the time this place is up and running, the economy will have improved (sans Comrade Obama and Nanny Bloomberg) and Brooklyn real estate will be even more in demand.

The biggest impediment will be the neighbors in Sunset Park. It'll be like building Battery Park City on the banks of the South Bronx.
Aug. 6, 2012, 3:36 pm
John from Bay Ridge says:
To Mike before making such stupid comments look at a map and see where the Gowanus canal is, which by the way is not next to Sunset Park. You are not just a racist pig but a stupid racist pig. My apologies to the pigs.
Aug. 6, 2012, 5:05 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
The museum in the Old Stone House says the Gowanus Creek once grew oysters the size of dinner plates that were exported to Europe. It would be great to see that kind of waterway again instead of the post-industrial sludge that's there now. Cleaned and restored and re-zoned the Gowanus could be the heart of this part of Brooklyn. Residential development, parks, and policies in place to preserve the vibrant artist colony that thrives in that area now would be a major engine for growth in the borough. The BAM district, Atlantic Yards, a redeveloped Gowanus, the massive growth along Fourth Avenue, and the lesser known constellation of tech- and bio-startups and hackerspaces have all the ingredients of a bright, bright future for all of us here.
Aug. 6, 2012, 8:34 pm
JAY from PSLOPE says:
the entire place is a SUPERFUND site, and they have said that even after they spend billions on "remediation" it still will not be safe to swim in. Live there and your likely gonna get a nasty cancer or something that alters your chromosomes.
So if this goes through, people will move in, get sick and then want money from the gov to pay for medical treatment, lives being lost etc. This is just STUPID ITS A DAMN TOXIC DUMP FOR GODS SAKE!!!
Aug. 6, 2012, 9:42 pm
Alli from PArk Slope says:
700 Units??? And where are these families going to send their kids to school?? The schools (elementary and middle) in neighborhoods surrounding this area cannot sustain that kind of growth.

Build more schools in District 15!
Aug. 7, 2012, 10:16 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Developers will have to build 700 apartments as a result of theSuperfund. The cost of cleanup will force all property to build a ton of apartments because that's the only way to pay for cleaning the land. Bloomberg had proposed to preserve South Gowanus for industrial use but the EPA had other plans! Without Superfund expenses, development density could have been less like the apartments at Third and Bond.
Aug. 7, 2012, 10:53 am
Larry from near Gowanus says:
(Gowanus) Joe doesn't know what he is talking about.
Superfund, or no-Superfund, a developer building housing on an old industrial site must cleanup the land anyway.
Besides, the Gowanus Superfund site is the canal, none of the land is included in the Superfund designation. And no developer has been tagged as a "responsible party" who will be required to pay for the Superfund Cleanup.

Joe, any developer who says the Gowanus Superfund is driving up their development costs is selling you the Brooklyn Bridge and you are buying it.
Aug. 7, 2012, 11:06 am
Larry from near Gowanus says:
(Gowanus) Joe doesn't know what he is talking about.
Superfund, or no-Superfund, a developer building housing on an old industrial site must cleanup the land anyway.
Besides, the Gowanus Superfund site is the canal, none of the land is included in the Superfund designation. And no developer has been tagged as a "responsible party" who will be required to pay for the Superfund Cleanup.

Joe, any developer who says the Gowanus Superfund is driving up their development costs is selling you the Brooklyn Bridge and you are buying it.
Aug. 7, 2012, 11:06 am
Thank you Larry from Gowanus says:
Agreed Larry. Bloomberg never said he would preserve Gowanus for industrial uses. The site was rezoned before the canal was placed on the National Priorities List. City Planning was going to rezone most of the canal cooridor to residential which is what Bloomberg wanted but that was tabled after the listing. There are many PRPs with deep pockets that will foot the bill.
Aug. 7, 2012, 5:07 pm
old time brooklynn from slope says:
cancer kids - and we will pay- and that is a crime or the kids
Aug. 7, 2012, 9:32 pm
Joe from Gowanus says:
Here's the link to the pre-superfund Bloomberg proposed plan for Gowanus:

The entire South Gowanus neighborhood was to be protected for manufacturing uses pre-Superfund.

EPA Superfund proponents agree that the level of cleanup mandated by the EPA is more intensive (ie: costly) and redevelopment of vacant Canal property for manufacturing was possible prior to Superfund and now all that's financially feasible is residential use.

Many of you express concern for my family's heath as we live near the Canal and thank you! However, we continue to live here for generations in harmony with trucks and industrial uses and the stupid EPA designation, with the resulting redevelopment may be more harmful to our lungs because of the extra cars and traffic!
Aug. 9, 2012, 4:08 pm
prither from gowanus says:
Take a look at perfetto construction, the owner has a sweet dog he has chained 24/7 in the lot, rain, heat or ice! Lovely neighbor to have, he has been reported to the ASPCA but alas it is still legal to neglect animals. But hey kids lets clean up the canal!
Sept. 26, 2012, 10:25 pm

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