Saturday, August 25, 2012

From Condo To Rental: The Lightstone Group Presents Its Gowanus Project To Community Board 6

From Condo To Rental: The Lightstone Group Presents Its Gowanus Project To Community Board 6

IMG_2256363-365 Bond Street IMG_2255IMG_8961CB6 Landmark/Land Use Committee meeting last nightIMG_8963Committee Chair Peter FlemingIMG_8977IMG_8981Lightstone Representative IMG_8966Steven Lenard and Aline Fader representing New York City PlanningIMG_8974IMG_8997IMG_8996IMG_9000IMG_9006IMG_9002IMG_8987IMG_8972David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers
After seven weeks in France, the last place I wanted to be last night was at the Community Board 6 Landmark/ Land Use Committee meeting, but The Lightstone Group was presenting its plans for 363-365 Bond Street on the shores of the Gowanus Canal. And well, it was too important to miss.

As many of you probably know by now, Lightstone is reviving the former Toll Brothers project. Back in 2009, after a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) that was set in motion by Toll Brothers, the property was successfully spot re-zoned from manufacturing to special mixed-use by the City of New York despite the protests of many members of the community who pleaded with city officials to first clean the Gowanus Canal thoroughly before rezoning the area.

Shortly afterwards, however, the Environmental Protection Agency came to the community to inform residents of the toxicity of the Canal and declared is a Superfund Site.
It did not take long for Toll Brothers to abandon its plans, stating that the Superfund designation made it impossible to go forward with the 447 unit condo project.

If Toll Brothers got cold feet, the Lightstone Group is ready to charge ahead with a 700-unit rental building. The developer came in front of CB6's Land Use Committee last night as a "courtesy" since the "relative minor alterations" apparently do not need a new ULURP nor a new Impact Statement.
CB6 Land Use Chair Peter Fleming was quick to tell board members and residents that this was an 'informal presentation' by Lightstone. "They are looking for input from the community, so try to be productive with your comments."

 Lightsone's project looks very much like what Toll Brothers had proposed. The "minor modification" are reflected in the massing to allow affordable apartments to be distributed throughout the buildings and 'to accommodate the addition of the NYC waterfront Sponge Park at the end of 2nd Street."
However, the new plan will "reflect the current economic conditions and real estate market." It is a mixed-use, all-rental development with fully integrated affordable and market components.
There will be 560 market rate apartments, 140 affordable apartments. There will be two small retail spaces on Bond Street, community spaces on the Canal and on 1st Street as well as open space along the Canal. There will also be parking for 316 cars.
The buildings will range in height from 6 stories to 12 stories, with the higher buildings on the canal front.
The affordable component will be affordable in perpetuity and will be managed by the Fifth Avenue Committee.

It did not take long for CB6 members and local residents to address the environmental issues affecting this particular site during the question-and-answer period. According to Ethan Geto, Lightsone's public relations person, "the EPA has responded positively to the development project" and "supports remediation of the site by Lighthouse" because the proposed steel pile along the bulkhead, storm sewers and other site work will reduce pollution in the canal.

Steven Miller, Committee member and EPA Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) member urged Lighthouse to set up a meeting with members of the CAG and representatives of the EPA "as soon as possible".

The community also reminded Lighthouse representatives that the Gowanus area used to be marshland and that it is prone to flooding. In addition, the sewer infrastructure is totally inadequate. "I have had 5 feet of raw sewage in my basement, "Richard Beanman , who lives on Carroll Street at the corner of Bond Street, stated. "I welcome you to come to my house when it rains. Before you build. Not after."
Another resident added: "You are increasing the sewer load by 700 units in the area."

It is interesting to note that Lighthouse has retained the services of both Lee Weintraub of Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture and of AKRF a leading environmental, planning and engineering consulting firm. Both had previously worked on the Toll Brothers Project.

It was also strange to see David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers, in the audience. Longtime resident Celia Cacase asked directly if Toll Brothers still had any involvement with the project.  A Lighthouse representative was quick to deny. "Toll is neither directly involved or indirectly involved."

Also, when asked if Lighthouse had already purchased the site or had an option to buy, their representative said that because of confidentiality, he could not answer the question, but that 'an option to buy would not be a misrepresentation."

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