Lightstone development will be disaster for Gowanus, activists say

Lightstone development will be disaster for Gowanus, activists say
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The massive luxury housing complex headed for the banks of the Gowanus Canal breaks laws and will flood neighborhood streets with putrid canal water, opponents of the project said at a protest last Thursday.

Dozens rallied that night to protest the Lightstone Group development, which is slated to rise on a canal-front property bounded by Bond, Carroll, and Second streets. Neighbors gathered on the Carroll Street Bridge, which spans the fetid waterway, just steps from where the real estate firm is preparing to build the 700-unit rental project. The Lightstone Group expects to break ground on the site early next year and finish work by 2015.

“The project’s design is ill-suited for the community,” said First Street resident Warren Cohen of Save Gowanus, the group behind the rally.

Lightstone opponents have blasted the development since the beginning, complaining that new residents will crowd neighborhood schools and subways, cause traffic jams, and stress already over-taxed sewers.

The complex will be raised by two feet to comply with post-Sandy flood regulations, a fact protesters railed against, saying that the high ground will channel rainwater into the canal and make flooding worse if another major storm hits.

“It’s going to aggravate the flooding region-wide,” said Gowanus activist Marlene Donnelly.

Fighting back: Activist Warren Cohen of the group Save Gowanus and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson led a rally on Thursday, protesting the Lightstone Group’s planned luxury housing project on the shore of the fetid Gowanus Canal.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The Lightstone Group shows no signs of slowing down and says that it is the activists who are aggravating. The rally organizers are spreading “not just misinformation, but disinformation” about the residential complex, company spokesman Ethan Geto said. The company claims it has received every government go-ahead it needs and that it has filed a complete environmental review, which shows that any increase in flooding would be dispersed throughout the canal and the New York Harbor, and into the ocean. The company points to the support of Gowanus’s Community Board 6 as evidence of how aboveboard the process has been.

“The rally organizers simply do not have the facts on their side,” Geto said.

But members of Save Gowanus claim that the development firm is illegally moving forward without state and federal reviews and that the City Planning Commission broke the law when it rubber-stamped the development in March. The activists say they plan to sue Lightstone Group and probably the planning commission.

The canal-side apartments have drawn ire from the start, when the luxury builders Toll Brothers won a hard-fought rezoning to allow housing on the Gowanus. Toll Brothers bailed after the Environmental Protection Agency named the fetid channel a Superfund site, setting in motion a costly federal cleanup that is scheduled to take until the year 2020.

The rally followed a secret meeting last Monday in Gowanus, held by local officials to discuss a “comprehensive plan” for the area, according to an invitation. The meeting, which was closed to the public and to members of the press, was organized by Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) along with Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D–New York), Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens), State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Fort Greene), and Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Greenpoint), according to the invitation. Only a select group of activists were invited to the meeting.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Mired in controversy: Gowanus activists want to stop luxury builder Lightstone Group from erecting a 700-unit complex alongside the Lavender Lake.
Lightstone Group