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September 17, 2008

A Man,
A Plan,
A Canal


The barren, industrial-zoned land on the banks of the Gowanus Canal seems a bit out of place, given its location between the prospering buggy-bouncing neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. But Toll Brothers is aiming to make Gowanus the next “it” area in Brooklyn, with a mixed-use project comprised of 460 apartments and 4k SF of retail.


The Gowanus revitalization project, bound by Bond, Second and Carroll Streets, as well as the canal, is the brainchild of Toll VP David Von Spreckelsen. Most of us need a Magic 8 Ball or Ouija board for guidance, but after living in New York City for 23 years—mostly Brooklyn—he may have the supernatural ability to predict the next explosive neighborhood. However, he humbly downplays this talent, noting that Gowanus’ promise is purely natural, thanks to its location near parks, good schools and bustling Smith Street. The project, which will include condos, townhouses and multi-family units—approximately 30 percent affordable—will likely appeal to the stroller-pushing set, as well as young singles and couples. And Von Spreckelsen should know what charms this demographic – the developer moonlights as a soccer coach and doting dad to three kids. He said he tackles the projects asking the question, “Would I like to live there?”


Unlike recent projects in nearby Billyburg, which includes Toll’s hipster high-rise North8 and Northside Piers developments, the Gowanus project is the first solely private-sector proposal for the area and way ahead of the city’s existing rezoning plan. On September 8, the project was certified to go into a land-use review procedure, kicking off a seven-month process of winning over the community and elected officials to allow the change from industrial to mixed-use zoning. And Mayor Mike is all about revitalizing the area, pushing for redevelopment of the city-owned Public Place tract, about 10 blocks south. If the Department of City Planning’s new zoning plans goes through before his term ends in 2009, then Toll’s project will fall into the Waterfront South designation, where mixed-use buildings can tower up to 14 stories high.


Architect Greenberg Farrow, landscaper Lee Weintraub and construction firm Sordoni are in place to spiffy up the project, but before residents even dream of the buildings’ waterfront view, the canal needs remediation to go from drab to fab. Given the potential presence of raw sewage, oils and heavy metals, Toll has commissioned environmental studies by AKRF and HydroQual. The firm also plans to build to project at high-water levels to avoid potential flooding. If the development indeed goes through, with a planned groundbreaking for next spring, Gowanus will likely follow in the footsteps of industrial/artist havens turned sought-after neighborhoods like SoHo, DUMBO and Williamsburg. Despite the state of the national real estate market, Von Spreckelsen reaffirms to us, just this morning, that Toll’s not shying away from relative fringe areas like Gowanus. Good, we’ll take that as much-needed encouragement in the current climate.

Arent Fox
Leo A Daly
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