City relaunches Gowanus Green development push on polluted site

The city plans to develop almost a 1,000 units of housing on the current brownfield site known as Public Place in Gowanus.
Department Department of Housing Preservation and Development

The city is moving ahead with plans to turn a publicly-owned polluted brownfield site along the banks of the Gowanus Canal into a large residential development that could bring some 2,000 new neighbors to the area.

City agencies and a cadre of developers plan to rezone the long-vacant lot at Smith and Fifth streets to remove the designation of the site as a public place — and allow for more than 900 new residential units, most of which will be below market rate, reps told a Community Board 6 subcommittee on Monday.

The project, dubbed Gowanus Green, will see builders erect a cluster of residential towers on the six-acre site — ranging between nine and 28 stories tall, according to reps, who said the scheme also calls for a five-story school at the corner of Fifth and Hoyt Streets and commercial spaces on ground level along Smith Street.

At the center of the development, officials plan to extend Luquer Street as a so-called “shared street” —  featuring a one-way street for cars, a bike path, two flanking sidewalks, and a swale trail.

A walkway will bisect the street and have seating and rain gardens leading to Fifth Street, with raised paths atop marsh gardens, seating areas, and communal gathering spaces.

Luquer Street will extend through the development as a so-called shared street.Department of Housing Preservation and Development

A small plaza on the site’s south-east corner will face out to a new 1.5-acre park on the banks of the noxious Gowanus Canal.

The Department of Housing and Preservation’s preliminary plans call for the creation of some 950 units, according to spokesman Simon Kawitzky, with three-quarters priced below market rate, targeting residents with an annual income ranging from 30 to 120 percent of the Area Median Income for a family of four — which is $106,700.

These plans are still subject to change, and the agency will seek more input from the community before officials file an application at a later date for the city’s lengthy land use review process, according to spokeswoman Juliet Pierre-Antoine.

The city agency — along with developers Hudson Companies, the Bluestone Organization, Jonathan Rose Companies, and local nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee — previously pushed for building residential developments on the heavily-polluted former gas works site in 2008, but those plans were stalled after the federal Environmental Protection Agency declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site in 2010.

The city and developers want to erect a school and install a public park facing the Gowanus Canal.Department of Housing Preservation and Development

The city, and the same quartet of building companies, revived the effort because the timing and details of the federal cleanup have become more clear, according to Department of City Planning spokesman Joe Marvilli.

The site used to house a Citizen Gas Works plant which was decommissioned in the 1960s — before the city seized the site in 1975 via condemnation.

The gas company later became part of what is now National Grid, and the utilities company in the summer of this year started cleaning the soil — which is heavily polluted with coal tar, according to the local gadfly blog Pardon Me For Asking.

Carrol Gardener Katia Kelly — the blog’s author — voiced concerns that the planners should make sure they know the extent of the pollution before planning for the large development.

“You plan on bringing 1,000 units of housing on one of the most polluted sites in the entire city and you don’t know where the coal tar is concentrated. I can tell you where it’s concentrated, it’s exactly concentrated where you plan on putting the school,” she said. “You are all showing up in your suits and you don’t know where it is, shame on you, shame on you.”

One of the builders conceded that National Grid was focusing its remediation efforts on the northern half of the plot, which includes the proposed school — but promised that the builders would go above and beyond the National Grid’s effort.

“We will be doing additional testing above and beyond what National Grid has been testing and beginning their remediation on,” said Jay Marcus, the head of the Fifth Avenue Committee.

Another local worried that the influx of people would overburden public transit, especially the nearby Carroll Street F and G-train station.

“Is there new transit being provided, because it doesn’t work now and with all these new people, there’s absolutely no way the transit system as it currently exists can move all these people out of the neighborhood to a job,” said the audience member, who declined to give his name.

A spokesman for the Department of City Planning said that the city will study the impact on public transportation system as part of the neighborhood-wide rezoning.

“That will be something that we share and we come back to the community about and any potential mitigations measures that we might have,” said Jonathan Keller.

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