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Housing is a go for Gowanus

Canal zone: The development company the Lightstone Group got the go-ahead to build a massive 700-unit housing complex on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.
Courtesy of Lightstone Group

A 700-unit housing complex got the go-ahead to rise along the banks of the Gowanus Canal after developers scrapped their request to alter a previously approved plan for the site and promised to stick to the size and height guidelines granted to the prior builder.

The real estate firm Lightstone Group received a Planning Commission rubber-stamp on Monday when it abandoned its quest to make a “minor modification” extending the backyard of the project, and instead advanced a proposal that closely mirrors a bid by the development company Toll Brothers, which bailed on the project three years ago due to the stigma of building beside one of the nation’s dirtiest waterways.

Dropping the request for rear yard changes on the canal-side stretch bounded by Bond, Carroll, and Second streets means the Lightstone Group proposal can advance under the same zoning hammered out for the Toll Brothers plan, said company spokesman Ethan Geto.

“We decided to give that up and we became as-of-right automatically,” said Geto.

But that doesn’t mean the proposal is identical to the old Toll Brothers blueprints.

Lightstone Group is sticking to its plan to build 700 units instead of the 500 pitched by Toll Brothers, shrinking the sizes of the apartments and putting them on the market as rentals rather than condos.

The developer plans to rent 140 of those apartments at prices below market rates.

The redesigned project must also abide by strict waterfront regulations that weren’t on the books during the hard-fought 2009 rezoning — pushing sections of the development further away from the canal, and, by extension, slightly increasing the amount of open space.

Under the redesigned blueprint, the tallest section of the building, which tops out at 12 stories, will be pulled back 70 and 75 feet from the canal, and a part of the structure on the southern end of the site will be set back 66.5 feet from the water’s edge.

Developers also plan to raise the lowest occupied floors of the buildings by two feet to comply with a new 100-year floodplain map released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But project opponents who have long blasted the development for its scale and potential impact on sewers, schools, and subways fear the changes won’t be enough to protect residents if another storm like Hurricane Sandy hits the borough and the canal once again overruns its banks.

“In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I continue to believe it is a mistake to move forward with dense, high-rise, residential development without a comprehensive plan for infrastructure and land-use regulations that Gowanus needs,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus).

Before Lightstone Group is permitted to start construction, it must get a waterfront certification from the Planning Commission chair, according to Michael Shilstone, a spokesman for the agency.

Geto said that this would likely be done within the next few weeks.

“We are proud to be in a position to jumpstart the transformation of the largely abandoned or under-utilized borders of the canal to productive use,” said Lightstone Group president Mitchell Hochberg.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

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