Another go for housing on the Gowanus

Toll Brothers testing the waters

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 [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

The Lightstone Group wants to revive a plan to bring housing to this site along the Gowanus Canal.
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg