Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New "Movement" Developing in Gowanus & Carroll Gardens?

Democracy Wall Requiem

Will Gowanus and Carroll Gardens community activists find new common ground? Last week, we broke the news about the major Toll Brothers development in Gowanus here and on Curbed as part of documents filed as part of the process of seeking a rezoning for the project. The scale of the development and the fact that the Toll firm is looking for the go-ahead before the overall neighborhood rezoning is completed is not sitting well with many residents. Some tell us that "a movement" may be developing to try to block the Toll project. Over the last few days, we have heard it called "an utter insult" in terms of the advance upzoning the developers are seeking and "a horror dropped into an open sewer" in terms of it placement in the Gowanus Canal's flood plain and of "anger, outrage and betrayal." One resident said, "The 'open sewer' has been calling out to some CG activists lately. People are mighty pissed off. There is a movement afloat."

If the two major developments that have been announced for Gowanus and Carroll Gardens--Public Place and the Toll Brothers canal-side project--are built, they would add about 1,600 units of housing to the neighborhood. (The total, of course, does not include other contemplated projects that would add at least another 1,000 units or projects that would be announced after the rezoning that is working its way through the process. The rezoning is expected to allow buildings up to 12 stories tall in places.)

An email we received said:
"Is anyone planning for where these people going to shop/eat/go to school/ride the train/park their cars/or even walk? Wake me from this nightmare! How can our tiny neighborhood sustain this kind of insane development?

Has any neighborhood worked this hard to preserve itself and been this betrayed in the process? Has any neighborhood tried so patiently to explain itself, and to make its arguments clearly and responsibly heard, expecting at least some of the same consideration from the "authorities" in return?

...It is now becoming crystal clear to CG residents clear that any "real plan" for Carroll Gardens development lies far, far away from their reach and far from anything resembling sane or responsible development for the public good. It is also crystal clear that the all mighty dollar will come to rule this neighborhood, as every last square inch goes up for sale and development, encouraged by the all too convenient: arcane, out of context, and ill conceived zoning regulations that encourage greedy developers to pillage our community?
In addition to the projects near the Gowanus other major developments are possible along the Third Street corridor where several major parcels are on the market, in addition to the Whole Foods project.

Whether any development will happen any time soon is another matter. The environmental challenges are severe (the Public Place site harbors toxins left over from a Manufactured Gas Plant that are almost impossible to completely remove and environmental testing hasn't even been done on the Toll site) and the flooding problems at the Toll Brothers site are so severe that the developers want to build the housing on a twelve-foot high man made hill. (The photo below is the foot of Second Street during a Nor'easter last year. Part of the Toll property is on the left. The water is contaminated with raw sewage.) The Gowanus, of course, is regularly flooded with raw sewage when it rains thanks to "Combined Sewer Overflows" that dump the contents of toilets right into the canal, with one of the biggest gushers of, uh, crap being approximately across the water from the proposed new Toll Brothers condos.

2nd St Gowanus 1 hr before hightide 4-15-07 500

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, excuse me, but yeah, other neighborhoods have been as betrayed. Try Fort Greene and Prospect Heights with Atlantic Yards, for starters. How about the high rises on the waterfront in the Burg and Greenpoint? No sympathy for these people -- the added density is relatively minor compared to the huge numbers being added by the aforementioned. They all yawned when we cried foul, so welcome to the club.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop scaring me. Never in my 20 odd years of living in .."cow country" have I ever felt so...violated. We MUST FIGHT THIS. This is an outrage.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Toll gets brown field funds I don't think these can be condos - you might want to double check that.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you ever want to see the gowanus canal become an even remotely clean, healthy body of water, then this kind of development is necessary and will hasten the process. get a grip, folks. this isn't that bad looking of a project.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dear panicky critics,

Aren't housing prices high enough yet? Do we really need to keep new supply off the market?

Didn't the post about Toll's proposal say that it included something like 250 off-street parking spaces?

And isn't the 12 foot height build-up of the property a reasonable way to address flooding?

Is it more likely that environmental clean-up will be properly done by a large builder with deep pockets or a small seat-of-the-pants one?

What exactly do people want to see in this location instead of what's been proposed?

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should build Cinderella's Castle instead, since all these NIMBYs live in FantasyLand

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:55 please explain to all of us how this development will hasten the canal clean up without resorting to saying that that amount of residents will put pressure on the politicians. Most people are "too busy" to devote the time and energy. Many of us have sat been going to DEP, DEC, ACE meetings for a decade or several and it doesn't seem like we are any closer to a cleaner canal.

I can think of other uses for that site like a school, post office, light industrial uses or artist work spaces...

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, NIMBY central on The Gowanus Lounge. Out of curiosity, has there *ever* been a new development profiled on this site with anything other than outright horror? God forbid anyone builds any additional housing in this city - good thing there isn't, you know, a housing shortage.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with those who have said this is just NIMBYism.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who don't care about the shortage of housing, who don't care about the need for infill development to reduce auto-dependency and global warming, and who only care about how easy it is to find a parking space.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Dope On The Slope said...

Gee, "anonymous" sure gets around.

What exactly do people want to see in this location instead of what's been proposed?

I don't know. Why don't our "public servants" ask for a change instead of readily providing zoning variances, tax breaks and eminent domain to campaign contributors...er... big time real estate developers every time someone whispers "economic development?"

Is it more likely that environmental clean-up will be properly done by a large builder with deep pockets or a small seat-of-the-pants one?

It isn't likely that any for profit developer will spend one damned dime to clean up anything if they can paper over the issues and ram approval through whatever sham of a process is in vogue these days. HERE'S A CLUE: Developers don't build for sustainability, they build for short term profit, that's what their investors demand. Breaking contracts and dealing with lawsuits after the fact is almost always worth it in their view. Who can blame them? The system doesn't reward doing the right thing. You might as well criticize a tiger for eating meat.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who don't care about the shortage of housing
There is no immediate shortage of housing, just a shortage of desirable, affordable housing for people making less than $200K per year. And, the effect of increasing the supply completely depends on the market that the developer is targeting. If you believe that NYC developers think they can make money targeting working class or even middle class folk, then there is a bridge in the vicinity I would like to lease you.

Let's quit believing in fairies. Unfettered development will do NOTHING to resolve the housing "crisis" for the average schmuck. These guys are in it for the money. More power to them.

The NIMBYs, on the other hand, have every right to expect local politicians to do everything in their power to preserve their quality of life and spend taxpayer money wisely. More power to them.

Are there some people who wish things would never change? Sure, but that isn't the majority of the folks who are concerned about development.

We don't need to stop, stall or stymie development.

We do need to work for better development, and, if we have the right ground rules and public process, things could actually move faster with much less acrimony (you'll never please everyone).

But of course that would require leadership and imagination on the part of local officials.

I'm not holding my breath.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you believe that NYC developers think they can make money targeting working class or even middle class folk...."

That's intellectually dishonest. Even development of higher priced housing takes pressure off of the supply of housing in general. The very people who can pay more end up driving gentrification if there's nothing else available.

And I don't get the sense that any of the specific criticisms being leveled here would be withdrawn if this was a proposal for low income housing.

It's both reasonable and fashionable to hate politicians and developers alike. Fine. They do plenty to deserve that. but if you really care about making things better, try taking a constructive position or two.

one of the reasons developers are as powerful they are is that the opposition isn't able to make any more powerful argument than "no."

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12 stories does not compare with the 40-sty towers of Greenpoint or Atlantic Yards.

18 stories would work much better, add a school, daycare, about 20,000sf of retail and you'll have a sexy project Toll.

2,000sf of retail (a small gym) is a joke! These will be dead, lifeless streets, disconnected by both use and flood plain!

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Toll Brothers even own the site? I thought that they wouldn't complete the purchase until they got the re-zoning. Maybe I missed something.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Dope On The Slope said...

Even development of higher priced housing takes pressure off of the supply of housing in general. The very people who can pay more end up driving gentrification if there's nothing else available.

Or... the development of higher priced housing increases the property values of adjacent neighborhoods thereby catalyzing and accelerating the gentrification process in those neighborhoods. Which is an argument real estate agents use all the time to lure prospective buyers into "iffy" areas.

Face it, the New York real estate market is its own animal because of the limited space for building and because the cost of living is so high to begin with. Price pressure will always be up in the long run as long as the city thrives economically. There are big structural issues in the economy that cannot be overcome by simply letting the publicly assisted market take care of things. Rent controls are continually being eroded (perhaps deservedly so) and the amount of federal assistance has decreased. The outlook is bleak for anyone in the middle or lower income brackets. Development cannot fix that given the current system IMNSHO.

We absolutely need higher density development, but that should be approached systemically and strategically. Right now, it's a Darwinian lottery for limited space and political patronage fought with lame populist platitudes (Hoops! Housing! Jobs!) and boatloads of lobbying. No one is seriously trying to address the affordable housing issue. I would be happy to support any developer who made an "intellectually honest" effort to do so. The problem again, is that there simply is no incentive. The system would have to be changed.

one of the reasons developers are as powerful they are is that the opposition isn't able to make any more powerful argument than "no."

I completely agree, but, as with the developers, what other recourse do individual community members actually have in absence of processes or ground rules that encourage and reward a constructive approach? By the time the public usually finds out about development, it's already a "done deal" in the minds of the people who have any power to shape the project. Also, the public doesn't have the huge financial resources or political influence. The most rational and efficient response to have any impact is to organize quickly around opposing negative aspects of proposed projects with simplistic arguments. What else could the public do? Being constructive with developers ain't their day job.

No, the burden falls on our elected officials to create the right development environment. To be perfectly honest, I could not give a rat's ass what a developer does if there are no zoning variances, public assets, tax abatements, grants, subsidies or eminent domain involved. This is America after all. However, most "big" development in this city necessarily involves one or more of those features.

One exception to the NIMBY rule was the recent "customized" installation of Commerce Bank on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. They made significant changes to the corporate design so that they branch would better match the context of the surrounding neighborhood. Why? Because they were bleeding hearts? No, because the community organized and made the argument that failure to fit in would jeopardize their relationship with prospective customers. It was in their own self interest to make the changes and then market them as an example of their communitarian spirit. It worked.

Until the success of real estate development is tied directly to their relationship with current neighborhood residents and not the power brokers in local government, the enmity between the two groups will continue. Since the only way for communities to really get developer attention is to scuttle projects, the responsibility for "fixing" things is with our elected officials.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the issue here is the health of the future residents of this polluted area

the clean up should happen first!
not development! then the Toll Brothers idea would at least be in a context that factors in public health and safety first...it appears no one cares much about the public good when the developers come first not last...that part is tru all over CG as it is all over Brooklyn. Shame on Bloomberg and Doctorof for this giant mess

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, 1055, It is not about the "Look" of it, it is the impact it will have on OUR neighborhood. That thing is HUGE and I don't want it out my windows. You must not Live in CG.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to see anything but a clean canal and LOW LOFT LIKE DWELLINGS. Those 250 cars are going to speed down my street and I will not have it! You must also not live in CG. SHUT UP.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, where were you CGers when Doctoroff was wreaking havoc all over the rest of Brooklyn? If we'd all stuck together, maybe the precedent wouldn't have been set. 250 cars? That's all? You want low-rise buildings? Try having an arena next door. Try taking the L train during rush hour. Try having Gutman torch your neighborhood.


9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Complaints are ridiculous given the scale of what is being proposed. Its smaller than what you see happening in other parts of Brooklyn. Also, given the condition of the Gowanus area at present, how can the Toll Brothers project and a Whole Foods be detrimental? Upgrading and gentrification will raise real estate prices (good if you own) and rents. You low income renters are s*** out of luck. But why should the Gowanus Canal be any different from the rest of the city? Do you deserve a protected pocket of underdevelopment? I say let the natural order of things assert itself.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:56 Actually, I own and I suspect many others who are opposed to this project do so also and have owned long enough to be sitting on a nice equity cushion.

What are you going to say next? That we want to keep Gowanus exclusive?

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes... exclusively run down. i don't want to debate you. its happening. live with it.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I look out my front door at the blight that is the Gow-anus, I have to ask, could it really get any worse? I have to believe that there is some happy medium here, I mean is the complaint that the lovely warehouses will be missed? Come on, something has to go here, and if it is housing so be it, it's private property and it never would have been turned into a park, the concerns regarding housing, sewage, parking ect are real, but are addressable. Without being an apologist for the Toll Brothers - it is worth remembering that they did NOT create this mess....and frankly I see no reason why they should be held responsible for its clean up...hell they are brave to sink this kind of money into a project next to what is basically a superfund site. Yes the neighborhood will change, and yes rent will go up, but this is still a relative low density neighborhood and if it is a step closer to seeing the canal cleaned up, I'm basically for it, now come on and tell me how you all hate me...

8:50 PM  

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