Gowanus condo plan advances, but councilman warns there will be flood

A tall ‘Toll’ on the Gowanus
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

The development company Lightstone Group won’t let Hurricane Sandy — or an angry councilman — stand in the way of its plans to construct a massive housing complex on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

The real estate firm is marching ahead with its proposal to build a controversial 700-unit development on Bond Street between Carroll and Second streets despite severe flooding in the neighborhood and the vocal opposition of Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus).

“The Lightstone Group is fully committed to the development of its Gowanus Canal project in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood and will move forward to build a high-quality, environmentally-sound residential complex,” the company said in a statement released to The Brooklyn Paper.

News that the project will advance comes after Lander penned an open letter to Lightstone Group CEO David Lichtenstein last week urging the company to drop its plans — and claiming a residential development at the site would put future tenants in danger.

“It would be a serious mistake for you to proceed as though nothing had happened, without reconsidering or altering your plans, and putting over 1,000 new residents in harm’s way the next time an event of this magnitude occurs,” Lander wrote.

Lightstone Group spokesman Ethan Geto said his company “violently objects” to the suggestion the development would put prospective residents in jeopardy and claims he does not foresee flooding to be an issue because the project will be “elevated significantly above sidewalk level.”

“If we were going to build a project that would be vulnerable to flooding in a major storm like Hurricane Sandy we might as well not build the project — it wouldn’t be economically viable,” said Geto,

Geto insists the Lightstone project will be able to withstand extreme weather conditions as designed, but added that the company is going to “evaluate the design in the context of Hurricane Sandy” by consulting with environmental agencies and engineers.

“We will refine the project if we need to,” said Geto. “If our data suggests it needs to be further elevated … we will do it. We are going to build a project that won’t be flooded,” said Geto.

The complex’s lobby will be steps above street level and its electrical equipment will get extra protection, according to Geto.

“We will elevate the basement to a level where we believe it won’t be flooded,” he said. “If there is some water that would get into low ground spaces we will design and locate mechanical equipment to protect it from flooding by insulating all of the electrical wires, systems and cables.”

The proposed canal-abutting development has been contentious from its start, when the luxury home builders Toll Brothers won a hard-fought rezoning to permit housing on the site, then scrapped the plan after the Environmental Protection Agency named the fetid Gowanus Canal a Superfund site requiring a lengthy and costly federal cleanup.

This summer, Lightstone Group picked up where Toll Brothers left off — bypassing much of the city’s land-use review process by advancing a similar proposal that will rise no more than 12 stories above the waterway.

But unlike the 500 condos that Toll Brothers suggested, Lightstone Group wants to construct an additional 200 units by filling the building with smaller rentals.

Before work begins, Lightstone Group must gain the approval of the City Planning Commission — where Lander says he will lobby against the development.

Geto says Lander should be an ally of his company — not an opponent.

“We are setting a standard here that will be a model for future development on the Gowanus Canal and [Lander] should be pleased by that,” he said.