Community Board 6's Land Use Committee Weighs In On Lightstone Development In Gowanus And Asks For Supplemental Environmental Impact Study
Peter Fleming, Chair of Community Board 6's Land Use CommitteeThe Lightstone 'group'Heather Gershin of the 5th Avenue Committee
Diane Buxbaum, local resident and member of the Sierra ClubMarlene Donelly of Friend sAnd Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG)Owen Foote Of Gowanus Canal DredgersCouncilman Brad Lander
PS 32's auditorium was filled to capacity last night for the monthly Community Board 6 Landmarks/Land Use Committee meeting. The Board, chaired by Peter Fleming, was reviewing The Lightstone Group's application for "minor modifications" to the previously approved land use actions at 363-365 Bond Street in Gowanus, and it was obvious that the community had come out in force to weigh in.
Lightstone is reviving the former Toll Brothers project on Bond Street adjacent to the Gowanus Canal. Back in 2009, the land at 363-365 Bond Street was spot re-zoned from manufacturing to special mixed use by New York City after a lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) that was set in motion by the previous developer.
Though the project is basically the same as previously proposed by Toll, who decided to walk away when the Gowanus Canal was designated an EPA Superfund Site, Lightstone has asked the New York City Planning Commission to modify and grant a three-year renewal of a special permit granted to Toll in 2009. City Planning considers these changes "minor" modification's which are subject to review and approval only by the Commission, rather than 'major' modifications, which would require the initiation of a new ULURP.
The changes requested by Lightstone include "variations in the base height of the project, building heights and footprints of portions of the buildings, relocation of parking entrances, changes to the location and design of the open space, and changes to the number of residential units from 447 to 700.
Peter Flemming quickly pointed out that the Community Board was not going to revisit the original spot-rezoning. "The Department Of City Planning has determined that this is a minor modification. We are not here tonight to discuss whether this is a minor modification," Fleming told the audience. "Though not required, City Planning has asked CB6 for a review and recommendation of those changes. City Planning may take these recommendations into consideration when making a decision."
Then it was Lightstone's turn to present its development. The developer's representative started off by stating: "Carroll Gardens is one of the best neighborhoods in the five boroughs and this is the kind of place where we want to make a long term investment." He continued by giving a short overview of their project. It is a mixed-use, all-rental development with 700 units. It will be made-up 560 market rate apartments and 140 affordable, fully integrated 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.
After the presentation, members of the audience wishing to make a comment were permitted to speak for two minutes each. Those speaking in opposition far outnumbered those in favor.
Amongst those for the project were Ray Howell, Bill Duke and Owen Foote, members of the Gowanus Dredgers (who incidentally negotiated with Lightstone for a community facility space). Bill duke felt that "this is something new that is very exciting that provides public access and a means for canoeing,"
Jean Austin, who is affiliated with the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, cited the lack of affordable housing in the neighborhood and therefore welcomed the units Lightstone's project would provide.
Those opposed cited the fact that the existing infrastructure, especially the already taxed Bond Street sewer system, could hardly accommodate a development of the size proposed by Lightstone.
Marlene Donnelly of Friend and Residents Of Greater Gowanus stated: "There is nothing in this system that says we have capacity for additional toilets and sewers for a project this size. We are faced with several other projects that might come aboard like the Public Pllace site and the Gowanus Green project and ever other housing project that wants to go into this drainage area. The problem that we have here is that the Environment Impact Statements (EIS) are dealt with in isolation. No one is looking at the cumulative effect. This project should not go forth in isolation."
Schools were also a concern. "PS 58 is at 120 percent capacity," one resident reminded everyone. So were hospitals and the already overcrowded subway. "You can't physically get into the subway in the morning," another resident stated.
Diane Buxbaum, representing the New York State Chapter of the Sierra Club, cited concerns about sea level rise and that we should be pulling away from our shoreline instead of bringing more residents to flood plains. "I understand the need for affordable housing. I understand Mayor Bloomberg wanting additional tax bases, but we need to protect people by not putting them in harms way."
Councilman Brad Lander stated that he did not support the rezoning of 363-365 Bond Street by Toll Brothers in 2009, because he did not "believe that it made sense to have a one-off, privately-sponsored 'spot rezoning' for a small piece of the Gowanus area. What we need is a long-term comprehensive plan that begins with a comprehensive clean-up, invests in sustainable infrastructure, and builds on the mixed-use character of the neighborhood. Thanks to Superfund designation, I believe that we have a real opportunity to get this in the years to come."
Members of CB6's Land Use Committee also seemed to have concerns about the project, the lack of additional EIS and the limited public process of the 'minor modification' application to City Planing.
Committee member Bette Stoltz stated: "I will be ashamed of us if we do not ask City Planning , no, even demand that City Planning go through another Environmental Impact Study. We have never seen the context change so dramatically before the development began as happened with this EIS." Her statement was greeted by the public with thunderous applaud.
Elly Spicer reminded her fellow members that the Toll project re-zoning and special permitting had originally been approved because Toll had committed itself to using union labor, something that Lightstone has not done, though the developer had been offered a 20% reduction contract from all of the building trade. "Lightstone clearly is more interested in big profits at the expense of the community and the wages the residents need and deserve. Therefore, I am opposed to this project on that level and the method by which it is approved."
In the end, Peter Fleming reinforced the point that had been made by Board President Daniel Kumer, that "since City Planning was treating this as a fairly open process, we should treat it the same way. If we have an opinion, we should make that opinion a part of the motion."
The following motion was then put forth:
-Request that City Planning not move ahead with this and that it be tabled until a supplemental EIS is performed.
-that the developer commit to the following:
* that 30 percent of the units be affordable
*that the over-all height of the building be reduced to eight stories as opposed to 12 stories.
*and that the Community Board Responsible Contractor Conditions (which include union labor) be followed.
The motion passed 14 to three in favor.
The result prompted more cheering from the crowd.
The issue will now go in from of the entire community board in October.
*****Below please find the testimony given last night by Rita Miller of Carroll Gardens Coalition For Respectful Development (CORD.) It was one of the best statements last night.
I am a co founder of cord and serve as the CORD representative on the administrative, real estate and water quality committees of the CAG [EPA Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group]
In that capacity I was one of the very limited number of cag members, as per the developer's request, that Lightstone agreed to meet with last week.
But I am here tonight as a resident and CORD member.
It is my understanding that it is your role, as the land use committee members to assess and advise on this new application by Lightstone
I deliberately use the word new, not only because of the changes, minor or not, but because of the fact that this proposal comes before you under a different set of circumstances than its predecessor did
As the Cord representative on the Cag--i have been lucky enough to learn a great deal not only about the canal, our sewer system, the superfund, that a floatable is not always a pool toy---but about how things within our government work, how rules are created and applied and mostly how we must adapt and sometimes be brave enough to fight back when we recognize that the application of the same old rules is just not working for us
That is really the dilemma before you this evening because tonight is not about being for or against this project
Tonight is not about being pro or anti development
Tonight is about being for or against what is in the best interests of your community, your neighbors and your own families
Tonight is about saying out loud--superfund designation of that canal is the best thing that ever happened here --it has changed the old rules -and is the one shot we have at getting some of our most pressing present environmental problems fixed and improving the conditions for whatever future WE participate in creating for our own community
We are on new ground here--this is an exciting time and you are in a position to make a real difference
Do you want to? Are you strong enough? Or do you want to rubber stamp a project just because the "rules" , as provided to you in such a narrow fashion, say you should...
The Epa tells us developers are interested in the area---
Be brave--send a message to city planning that you will not be used -- don't thank them for including you--stand up and tell them we want a comprehensive rezoning first a STUDY of the area that addresses the cumulative impact of that rezoning and any proposed projects upon our environment, our community and the proposed remedy--something this 'spot rezoned before so therefore we must plop it down now' mind set does not do--Tonight is the night to say, no.
And here is the testimony I gave myself in front of the Committee last night:
My name is Katia Kelly,
As a member of the EPA Gowanus Community Advisory Group's water quality and real estate committees, I had the opportunity to meet with the representatives of Lightstone to discuss their proposed development on the shores of the Gowanus Canal. I was one of eight CAG members that Lightstone agreed to meet with.
I am not speaking for the CAG tonight, but as a long time resident of this community.
Back in 2009, this Community Board voted to allow the spot-rezoning of 363-365 Bond Street.
The board somehow ignored the fact that the Gowanus Canal was a highly toxic waterway and that the City uses the canal as an open sewer.
The board dismissed the many area residents who argued that the canal needed to be cleaned and the sewer system updated before any thought of development. They warned that it was dangerous and a liability to put more residents in harm's way.
But still, many members on this board went ahead and voted yes.
Shortly afterwards, the EPA declared the canal a Superfund site, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is one of the most polluted waterways in the United States.
With this new scientific knowledge, this board is now asked to rubber stamp some 'minor' modifications, which would bring even more people to the canal, even before the clean-up has started.
This board cast the wrong vote back in 2009
Please cast the right one this time.