Thursday, January 11, 2007

Toll Brothers Point Finger of Blame in Gowanus

Stitched Wide Shot of Carroll Street Bridge

Lurking the editorial section of yesterday's Sun was a long editorial that hones in on the Toll Brothers zoning dilemma in Gowanus and uses it as the jumping off point to make the case that regulations subjecting such developers to a long and arduous regulatory process is the reason they only build million dollar condos.

Where to begin?

Let's start with the choice of the Toll Brothers firm as the torch bearer for an overwhelming desire on the part of developers to build affordable housing that is stiffled by government. (Nothing personal, but a focus on the high end of the market is a focus on the high end.) Next, there are the details of Toll's frustration with the slow process of rezoning in Gowanus--which we'd already been told about in general terms. (The Tolls and Leviev Boymelgreen--which hopes to build Gowanus Village--had apparently been hoping for a quick-and-dirty rezoning of their properties apart from a Gowanus comprehensive plan some 12-18 months ago.) The Sun writes:
Toll Brothers Inc., a Pennsylvania-based developer famous for sprucing up the Jersey suburbs with upper-middle-class subdivisions, has been waiting since 2004 for the Department of City Planning to certify the rezoning of a two-block slice of land along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

Toll Brothers recently had to withdraw an application for a state-funded environmental cleanup of the site because of the city's tardiness. And even if Toll Brothers gets city approval to go ahead with rezoning, it will still have to embark on a 7-month process of more hearings and reviews before it can begin building the mixed-income urban village of townhouses and apartments it has planned.

Toll Brothers doesn't want to talk about its problems in Brooklyn ("Use your imagination," one of its vice presidents, David Von Spreckelsen, said). But the situation is an example of how politicians, while intoning about the need for affordable housing and proposing more rent and construction subsidies and other handouts, operate a system of onerous and costly zoning and landmark regulations that drive developers like Toll Brothers away from this city.
The editorial goes on to compare the "svelte" zoning code of 1916 with today's 2,520 document and suggest that the building boom of the 1920s is a fairly good model to follow. Of the Toll Brothers problems it continues that developers:
are almost guaranteed to have to seek rezoning for their projects. As in the case of Toll Brothers, the rezoning process can take years, and the environmental impact review alone takes an average of 18 months. All of which helps make million-dollar condos about the only new housing developers will touch.
We will not wade into the swamp of why a lack of zoning made Houston the great city that it is, but will say that we have long wondered if major Gowanus projects would get the zoning they needed and go forward independent of the overall Gowanus planning process, rendering the plan yet another document whose main contribution to life is to kill more trees and use up hard drive space for storing big PDFs. Far from being driven from New York City, the Toll Brothers are in up to their eyeballs with major projects in Manhattan, three highrises and a smaller luxury development in Williamsburg, a significant project in Long Island City and others.

The moment we saw the Brooklyn Paper story about the Toll Brothers "withdrawing" their application for a cleanup of the Gowanus site we sensed a ploy to apply pressure to get a rezoning independent of the Gowanus plan. Or, maybe, it's just an innocent coincidence of timing.

Related Post:
Toll Brothers Getting a Little Testy in Gowanus?


Blogger Howie G said...

On Dec 12th, good old Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph commented on the expectation of the Pound Sterling to plummet. This becomes relevant where the role of the fall of the pound triggering a further catastrophic fall of the dollar is making the rounds this week.

Meanwhile, the oil price is falling. This may be a welcoming sight for motorists around the world, but this will go into the mix, or shall we say the descent into the maelstrom. Hedge funds could take a big beating. They have been betting on big macho man Cheney to hit Iran and start the rise of oil toward $200 a barrel. But, it has been delayed, though not entirely called off. Here's a little bit of advice to my hedge fund friends. If the Democratic congress nixes the "surge" in Iraq, then oil will continue down. And alot of hedge fund people are going to be hung out to dry, like what happened to the Amaranth Hedge Fund people up in Greenwich Ct. Or the Amaranth people out in the Cayman Islands. You know, the usual arrangement, the onshore and the offshore branches of twin companies. Anyway a real crash is definitely in the mix for hedge fund people nation. More at real crash

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Screw Toll Brothers, they don't know shit about Gowanus or Brooklyn, either does Halstead for that matter. They should take their McMansions and head to the hills. leave the Gowanus development to the locals my friend!!

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm all for affordable housing, but I think it's sad that Toll Brothers chose for its development site what is currently a very active industrial business that i believe employs about 100 people. Why must we choose between affordabel housing and good blue collar jobs, when they are both so very much needed?

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seens that the withdraw of the brownfield application by Toll may have had more to do with their wanting to demolishing buildings on the site now. Under the state brownfield program, the DEC has some say over what can be done on the site--meaning no demo'ing buildings until remediation plans are approved.

3:07 PM  

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