Monday, November 12, 2012

Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG) To City Planning: After Sandy, How Can Department Consider 700-Unit Apartment Complex In Gowanus?

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Proposed Lightstone Development next to the Gowanus Canal (credit: Lightstone Group)
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Lightstone Development site, Canal at Carroll Street during Sandy  (photo credit: Margaret Maugenest)
Second and Bond Streets during storm (photo credit: Triada Samaras)
Sandy flooding at First and Bond Streets near Canal (photo credit: Carl Teitelbaum)

On November 13th***, NYC's Department Of City Planning will be reviewing The Lightstone Group's application for "minor modifications" to the previously approved land use actions at 363-365 Bond Street on two blocks right next to the Gowanus Canal. One of those minor modifications is to increase the number of units from 447 to 700, which doesn't seem so very minor at all.

In 2009, after a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) that was set in motion by Toll Brothers, a national development company, the property was spot re-zoned by City Planning from manufacturing to special mixed-use, which allows housing.
After the Gowanus Canal was declared a Superfund Site by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, Toll Brothers decided to abandon plans for their proposed condo development.

Lightstone revived the project and is planning a 700-unit rental complex. In order to proceed, they just need City Planning's approval.  (It is important to note that Lightstone could start construction on the previously approved 447 unit building immediately.)

Many Gowanus residents have warned that the building site is in a flood zone A and that the infrastructure, especially the sewer system in the Gowanus area is dreadfully antiquated.  
After Hurricane Sandy and the ensuing flooding, these concerns are well founded.

The group Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus (FROGG) just released the  statement below aimed at NYC Planning and Chairperson Amanda Burden to address the 'new reality' about the vulnerability of our shoreline and the risks of bringing more residents to a flood plain.

BROOKLYN RESIDENTS, SMALL BUSINESSES BLAST NY CITY PLANNING’S DECISION TO CONSIDER A NEW 700-UNIT APARTMENT COMPLEX IN CONTAMINATED ZONE A
Development would be the first approved since Superstorm Sandy despite being in a flood-prone, mandatory evacuation zone along a hazardous Superfund site; Brooklyners upset at the prospective rise in insurance costs from the eventual bail out of this building in the next storm; City Planning to discuss approval November 13.***
Brooklyn residents and small businesses are outraged that the New York City Planning Commission will consider a proposal to build a gigantic 8 to 12 story apartment complex to house over 1400 residents on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, which is a hazardous federal Superfund site. Their proposed site was under more than 10 feet of toxic, sewage- contaminated water during Hurricane Sandy.
After the mandatory evacuation order for Zone A and the continuing devastation from the hurricane, many Gowanus residents have still not been allowed to return to their damaged buildings. Other high rises in the neighborhood, such as the Gowanus Houses, are still without power and heat a week after the storm. The EPA is currently conducting street-level site sampling to determie whether the cancer-causing contaminants from the canal’s toxic sediments linger and are harmful to citizens. It’s in this dystopian environment that the Lightstone Group is applying
to build an apartment complex. “It is lunacy for the city to consider this project in light of the damage from the hurricane,” says Linda Mariano, co-chair of the community advisory group Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus (FROGG). “We are calling for a full moratorium on development and all up-scale zoning changes in any waterfront district.”
A 2010 State Sea-Level Task Force Report recommends " restriction of new development and redevelopment in high- risk areas”. That’s because the costs of dealing with a storm’s aftermath is too costly to New York taxpayers. The dollars to bail out residents during future storm surges raises everyone’s taxes as well as insurance rates.
The NY City Planning Commission will discuss this project at a November 13 meeting at which the public is not allowed to speak. Unlike other proposals for new developments, the Lightstone project is slipping backdoor through a loophole in the city planning process. The proposal will not go through a city ULURP hearing or have to file and environmental impact statement because of
an earlier area spot zoning in 2009. However, given the federal government’s designation of the Gowanus Canal as a Superfund site in 2010 and the incredible damage and displacement
from Hurricane Sandy, it is irresponsible for the City Planning Commission to greenlight such a development at this time.
Lightstone has said that despite the storm, it will proceed with building, claiming that they plan to raise the grade of their development to offer protection to the new residents. However, the surge brought in by Sandy exceeded their proposed elevation changes. And even if their buildings are above the flood plain,  all their of nearly 1400 residents will still need to be evacuated in the next storm– a task made more complicated by the city’s evacuation route also being underwater for high tides during the storm. Furthermore, in Sandy’s wake, new developments can’t only seek to impede a flood by trapping storm water, but also need to be evaluated as to whether they can assist in the speedy drainage of future storm surges, something Lightstone’s proposal does not include.
“Flood water would not only find another path, it would go further up each side of the Canal to find open or other accessible space,” says Diane Buxbaum, a neighborhood resident and environmentalist “It makes no sense to continue building on our shore areas. Creating open areas and trying to restore some link to wetlands is the better choice.”
More than 500 Brooklyn residents and small businesses have signed a petition decrying the development, and it is also opposed by a large number of community groups incluing FROGG (Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus), CORD (Coalition for Responsible Development) and the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, among others.
These allies call upon Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and Councilman Brad Lander and other elected officials, acting under the power of the current “State of Emergency,” to take the first steps in addressing the effects of hurricane and storm surge catastrophes by calling for a moratorium on development and all up-scale zoning changes in any waterfront district that was affected by the storm surge of hurricane Sandy. They call for Amanda Burden and the NY City Planning to put an immediate moratorium on the review or approval of any pending projects planned for Zone A, including that of the Lightstone Group, until new guidelines for such development have been created. To do otherwise would not only be foolish, but irresponsible and costly to the community as well. As Governor Andrew Cuomo recently stated, “We have a 100-year flood every two years now.” The NY City Department of Planning must acknowledge this fact, and act accordingly.
We must rebuild following Sandy – but not at the water’s edge. Let’s not create new and costly regional flood control problems.

*** The hearing on this development was delayed. The date apeared on NYC Department of City Planning's online calendar prior to Hurricane Sandy, but was removed after the storm. No word yet on when it will be rescheduled.




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