Critics: Gowanus Canal development would be too populous

A planned housing development will bring too many residents to the banks of the Gowanus Canal, claim neighbors who fear it will overburden a fragile sewer system, crowd schools, and pack the subway.

The real estate firm Lightstone Group wants to build a 12-story, 700-unit apartment complex on a canal-side site bounded by Carroll and Second streets, reviving a plan that different developers ditched two years ago — but adding roughly 250 apartments to the original design.

The proposal includes landscaped public esplanade, storm sewer upgrades, and 140 below-market-rate rentals — which the company claims provide much-needed housing “for people of more moderate means.”

“The way this project fits into the community is important to us — not just its design quality but also its environmental infrastructure, said Lee Weintraub, an architect heading the project at a hearing on Thursday

But dozens of Gowanus residents and activists said the area’s infrastructure can’t accommodate the roughly 1,400 new residents expected to descend on the blossoming industrial neighborhood.

“It’s completely out of line. We don’t want to see a monster building,” said Gowanus neighbor Linda Mariano at a hearing attended by more than 100 residents, activists and civic leaders.

Some residents said they feared the population hike would render the nearby Carroll Street subway station useless.

“None of you have ridden the F train,” neighbor Barrin Bonet told developers at the meeting. “You can’t physically get on in the morning.”

Others cited environmental worries tied to flooding and the polluted canal — which is so filthy it’s the site for a federal Superfund cleanup.

The new rentals come after the real estate firm, Toll Brothers, backed out of a similar plan to bring luxury condos to the same plot.

The company signed papers to buy the land in 2004, but six years into its plan — and in the midst of a nationwide recession — it walked away from a $5.75-million down payment, saying the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-up would take so long and create such a strong stigma that the land wasn’t worth developing.

Lightstone Group now says their development makes only a “minor modification” to the already approved Toll Brothers plan — allowing the company to skirt a full review from the city.

Even though developers say the new proposal won’t differ much in scale from the Toll Brothers plan, some neighbors say the changes aren’t “minor” at all.

“We don’t have a sewer system that can support a project this size,” said neighbor Marlene Donnelly.

Others cheered the project, saying it will bring much-needed housing to the area, spruce up the neighborhood, and offer open space on a hard-to-access waterfront.

“I support it; it provides public access and a means to the canal,” said Bill Duke of the Gowanus Dredgers canoe group.

Lightstone representatives echoed that idea, saying the company is committed to investing in the neighborhood and could break ground next September if it gets approval from Community Board 6 and the city for the changes.

The plan will go before the CB6’s full board next month.