Friday, September 28, 2012

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 Committee
The Lightstone 'group'
Heather Gershin of the 5th Avenue Committee
Diane Buxbaum, local resident and member of the Sierra Club
Marlene Donelly of Friend sAnd Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG)
Owen Foote Of Gowanus Canal Dredgers
Councilman 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.

Good evening
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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent summary of the evening's proceedings. I was not able to speak but would have added to the handful of complaints regarding the already overloaded bond street sewer system. The builder's engineers have calculated that the building will have a net positive impact on CSO's. Whether this is true or not I don't know, but when we talk about sewer backups I don't think CSO's matter. Sewer backups are not the same as CSO's. In particular, sewer backups are an very site-specific kind of problem occurring under specific conditions ( the sewer lines feeding into the bond street sewer during heavy downpours.) That is a far different kind of problem than a calculation of total CSO's over the course of a year. I don't think the city or the developer can guarantee that sewer backups will not increase if this project goes forward. The sewer backup problem needs to be studied further.

Anonymous said...

you left out one additional "condition" it was...that City Planning immediately restart the comprehensive re-zoning study for the Gowanus corridor.

Katia said...

Sorry, I just listened to the recording I took last night and I am afraid that last part was not part of the motion, but I will inquire.

debbie said...

Katia - did you manage to get a picture of the slide showing the huge towers right on the canal? I have a feeling that drawing was never shown before. It needs to be seen.

Katia said...

Hi Debbie, I just added the one I took last night to the post. The development does look gigantic.

Second and Bond said...

Katia this is a really excellent summary. Brava. Lighthouse Group is a major NYC lobbyist and this typically rushed development project with minimal review or process time, is not based on good planning whatsoever but rather the usual "bottom line". Lighthouse putting people in harm's way defeats the purpose of all the safeguards this community has demanded with the Gowanus Canal clean-up to ensure no one else suffers adverse health affects from the Canal. While the dredging of all the toxic sediment has not even begun by the EPA, Lighthouse Group proposes to put people, and especially seniors and the poor in close proximity to a Superfund clean-up site! They even admitted themselves that a nursery school was "inappropriate" for the sight admitting the health risks themselves. Yet they imagine their residents, who will occupy spaces just steps from the Canal will be safe? I find it morally reprehensible that Lighthouse has the gall to promise affordable housing and a public esplanade along what is still very much a Superfund site. CB6 made the right call. Now let us pray City Planning has some common sense too. What is very clear here is that a Comprehensive development plan for the entire Gowanus Canal is badly needed and that spot re-zoinng for a NYC lobbyist with deep pockets and obvious string is a very bad idea.

fred said...

Thanks Katia for the summary. To have an idea of what represents 12 stories, the building at the corner of Hoyt and Baltic street is something like 14 stories... This is huge.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all you do for our neighborhood. We are lucky to have you in our midst!
Molly (Foss's mom ;)

Anonymous said...

Have you guys seen this? A member of CB6 is admitting that last night's meeting was "a dog and pony show to give the community a sense that they are being heard, but it will not change the project or stop it from being built." This is someone who is supposed to be representing us? It's truly outrageous.
(scroll down to comments)

Anonymous said...

The CB6 resolution missed the point. Our government (DCP) directed Lighthouse Group not to conduct a Supplemental EIS and if the Community Board disagrees with government, they should be vocal but that's between CB6 and DCP.

Our Community Board needs to decide (and vote) on if they want the Toll Brothers project, with less affordable housing units and a smaller esplanade or if they want the new Lightstone project, which may not use 100% prevailng wage labor and has more (smaller) apartments and will have 10 additional affordable apartments than Toll had proposed (but not promised) and that represents a smaller % of the total.

This was not a CB6 vote for or against the proposed project. It was just anger at DCP because CB6 thinks they know zoning better than our government.

Anonymous said...

Funny ...

"Peter Flemming quickly pointed out that the Community Board was not going to revisit the original spot-rezoning."

Two hours later, Mr. Fleming allowed a resolution to be voted on to request that the approved rezoning be revisited with a supplemental EIS. What a waste of time!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Having attended the CB6 meeting, I felt the intentions for development were good but there was an air of smoke and mirrors. I am not anti-development but certain issues need to be addressed before ground is allowed to be broken. How will the F Line accommodate such a large influx to the neighborhood? Where will children go to school if all of the local schools already have waiting lists? Will the sewage system that Lightstone has planned work as well as they claim and who will repair it when it malfunctions? Will seniors and displaced local families have priority over artists and other "low-income" residents? What about parking? And who will police the "waterfront" esplanade and keep it safe? One person who spoke last night described the surreal beauty he sees when he takes a canoe out on the Gowanus. Funny, when I walk my dog over the Union Street and Carroll Street bridges, I see sickly green water, slime, garbage and feces. Surreal indeed.

mm said...

Brad Lander really stepped up to the plate.

Anonymous said...

I love it when people call artists "low income""…
Anyway. Thank you Katia. I left after the no microphone issue and after signing the CON list that was being passed around.
Ok. So. Rejuvenate that parcel with something in context. I think we are all in agreement that Lightstone, not Lighthouse, are quick to push this behemoth forward. If they were named "Lighthouse" a name often associated with help and guidance, maybe a smaller more tasteful jump onto our toxic shores would be on the table. I've never seen anyone set up a projection screen so quickly. Like they were being prodded by some invisable rod. The thing is ugly and huge. Wrong on all aforementioned points. Stop putting the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

Lightstone is a finance investment company with funds from investors all over the world looking to invest in some place that has anything financially positive going on. Brooklyn's Local Economy is what is grabbing their attention. Brooklyn has a local economy, based on small shops and small scale local production, that is humming along. The smart guys at Lightstone are looking to come in here and suck funds away from this local economy to pay out to their global investors. Our Wall-Street oriented city government is there to help Lightstone do just that.
Condo's won't work know since morgagase are hard to come by; but straight rental cash? what a better way to siphon off Brooklyn's local economy!
Any wonder they won't use Union Labor for this process?

Anonymous said...

Everyone is missing the point. Lighstone didn't determine no supplemental EIS was needed - our Department of City Planning did!

Our community can vote for or against the proposed changes so the choice is do we want 447 high income Condos with more families and kids, who may overcrowd our schools or does our community want 700 rentals for singles and couples, who may be more transient but will guarantee 140 apartments so low income families can stay in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I got the idea that they were not committing to union labor because they wanted something to have to squeeze union wages/benefits down - keeping wages "competitive." I also got the sense that they have a very small margin as far as costs/still making a profit. No matter how you dice it, this is just the wrongest vision - actually, it was no vision. It was just, here's some land, let's do some lip service to concerns, and let's make a lot of money. How anyone can stand on the Carroll Street bridge and come up with this, and have any kind of heart and feeling is beyond me. And putting the affordable units in and then to say we need affordable housing is a ruse. I also heard someone say senior housing need - wrong place for either.

Anonymous said...

@3:49 - neither choice I want - they're both out-of-context behemoths and inappropriate for that site.

Agnes said...

@3:49 Obviously, the no supplemental EIS needed had to come from City Planning - but just as obviously, Lightstone asked or lobbied for this.

Anonymous said...


Do you want to sustain the Yard music venue and the 2nd St truck parking lot? Do you want BJs? Walmart? Our Community Board needs to tell the CPC what they want if they don't want this housing!

Anonymous said...

And @3:49, you need to know the community gets to vote on nothing. The CB6 vote is for recommendation and not in any way binding for City Planning.

Everyone needs to realize that more and direct pressure needs to be put on City Planning and Lightstone. A supplemental EIS is a starting point for addressing some very real concerns on a range or issues that this project brings with it.

gowanee said...

@10:04 Realities of that land: toxic waterway, CSO's, toxic land, hurricane evacuation zone, flood plain, cannot get flood insurance on that property, neighborhood character and context, open space, commercial/manufacturing zoning - let's get a comprehensive zoning plan that takes into account the big picture before we start talking visions...

Anonymous said...


Lightstone is raising 1st St to be above the flood zone and buildings will also be above the flood zone with standard insurance. The esplanade will help mitigate existing Gowanus neighborhood flooding.

Other Gowanus properties need flood insurance because they are in the flood zone.

gowanee said...

3:45 - You cannot get flood insurance in Gowanus and adjacent areas. Lightstone said much at that CB6 meeting, and I don't believe a word of their promises. Including that they would mitigate the CSO's. All smoke and mirrors. How can Lightstone raise 1st St to be above the flood zone? That water has to go somewhere anyway. And waters when it is flooding go up as high as 4th Ave. - have you ever seen? Why do you think they raised the subway entrances there, on Union?

Anonymous said...

If you don't live in a flood zone, like much of the Gowanus neighborhood, you can purchase insurance. You can even purchase insurance against terrorism. Call any agent and they will sell you a policy.

If you live in a flood zone, you SHOULD purchase flood insurance and your cost of the insurance will depend on your degree of risk on the hazard map. Your lender may require you to purchase the insurance.

Here's the link:

Fourth ave (and much of Park Slope) has CSO and DEP interceptor pipes that are undersized so if you go to 9th / 4th Ave during rainstorms, you'll see catch basin eruptions and many basements flood because the CSO pipes are too small to handle the large volume of rainwater runoff.

This flooding is not due sea level rising and has been the situation in Gowanus for 100 years.

Sometimes, at high tide, there’s seawater flooding over the Canal bulkhead extending +/-20 past the current shoreline and Lightstone’s proposed esplanade is designed with landscaping to mitigate much of that flooding while the existing land captures 0% of stormwater.

Anonymous said...

Sea levels rising WILL make flooding worse, obviously - and, no, you cannot get flood insurance in Gowanus. 4:58 - I don't believe a word of any of the info Lightstone presented. Frankly, I don't trust them.

Anonymous said...

here's the FIRM map:

If you live in the shaded area, you should purchase flood insurance

To argue that those companies cannot purchase flood insurance is a dumb waste of time

Gowanus Resident said...

10:25 Call Allstate and ask them if you can get flood insurance in Gowanus. End of story. You cannot. And pls. stop wasting my time with this silly back and forth.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link describing how flood insurance can be denied. Being located in a flood zone is not on the list.

Your lender should require that you purchase flood insurance for property located in a flood zone.

Enuf already! said...

4:22 - have you called Allstate for flood insurance in Gowanus - pick any street address near the canal? Enough of the links and what whoever should require. Just call Allstate. And if you get an agent who will give flood insurance, then pass on the name and number.

Anonymous said...

Let's get back to the issue at hand - the question is does oour community want rentals or condos?

Both owner and tenant can purchase any insurance they want! Greenpoint condo developments are in an AE zone and are also next to a Superfund site. see:

WTF said...

The issue at hand is NOT whether we want rentals or condos, but that spot rezoning for this gigantic out of context, out of scale residential complex is not an appropriate project for this site.

And you keep repeating the erroneous insurance info. FACT: You CANNOT get flood insurance in Gowanus, and all you have to do is call Allstate and be told that.

Anonymous said...

@ WTF - You could not be more wrong, and this is why discourse on development never gets anywhere. The issue at hand is NOT about the scale of the project, the spot rezoning, or your arbitrary use of "gigantic". That was the issue at hand YEARS ago when the rezoning was pushed through.

What is the issue at hand now is if the current owners comply with all the zoning restrictions on their property (kind of), and if their proposed alterations are minor (depends on your viewpoint) and if their proposed unit configuration changes will be beneficial (I say yes, but others are free to disagree).

While discerning minds are free to disagree on certain issues, not even understanding what the issue is shows willful ignorance. Yelling for yelling's sake.

Anonymous said...

The zoning remains unchanged in this proposal so it doesn't matter if the zoning is a spot or not a spot. The new purchasers would like to build rentals instead of condos.

Do we want rentals which attract singles and couples without kids to live in Gowanus or do we want owners to move in?