CB6 to Toll Brothers: Put housing promise in writing

Toll Brothers testing the waters

Community Board 6 has rescinded its approval of a controversial residential development on the Carroll Gardens side of the fetid Gowanus Canal unless the developer promises — in writing — to include below-market-rate housing in the 447-unit project.

In November, Community Board 6 supported Toll Brothers’ request to rezone two blocks to allow the first large, mixed-income housing project on the banks of the polluted waterway.

But the board voted last week to make that approval contingent on a legally binding agreement to construct affordable housing on the site.

Toll Brothers says the plan sets aside 30 percent of the proposed units as “affordable housing” — but until the developer puts the offer in writing, some residents fear that the builder will take advantage of the lucrative zoning change yet then claim that the poor economy makes it impossible to the company to follow through on the affordable housing promise.

Changing the zoning from manufacturing to resident would allow Toll Brothers to build 12-story towers on the site, which is bounded by Carroll, Second, and Bond streets and the canal.

“[Toll Brothers] certainly represented the project as having affordable housing at its core — and that made people willing to accept something that is uncharacteristically larger than would otherwise be allowed,” CB6 District Manager and City Council hopeful Craig Hammerman said after the nearly unanimous Feb. 11 vote. “So if they are unable to provide that affordable housing, there is no reason they should be allowed to build something of that size and bulk.”

But the builders say they won’t put their promise of affordable housing in writing, mostly because federal subsidies that typically subsidize the construction of low-income housing have begun drying up.

“We’ve always envisioned affordable as part of this project, and we continue to envision it — but affordable housing is not built without subsidies, and if for some reason, subsidies were not available, then we would not be able to build the affordable [units],” said Toll Brothers Vice President David Von Spreckelsen.

“The suggestion that we put something in the deed restriction — something that has never been done in New York City — is not something we would ever entertain as rational business people,” he added.

It’s unclear whether such an agreement has actually “never been done,” according to Department of Housing Preservation and Development spokesman Seth Donlin — but it certainly isn’t common.

“While [developers] are strongly incentivized to provide affordable housing, making them write it into the deed is not something that the city would typically do,” he said. “We act through incentives, not mandates.”