Development Delayed Indefinitely on Brooklyn's Toxic Canal

When Toll Brothers, the developer most famous for its suburban McMansion subdivisions, first eyed New York City in 2004, many here saw it as the beginning of an ironic twist to the story of real estate. Its City Living division raised luxury towers in neighborhoods that had been denizens of drug users or had been homey family neighborhoods -- I'm talking East Village and Williamsburg, respectively -- just a decade before.

But that was nothing compared to the irony of creating a vast luxury complex on one of the most contested sites in all of Brooklyn: the Gowanus Canal. It was rumored to be one of the most toxic bodies of water in America, filled with residual gunk from the neighborhood's manufacturing past, along with dead bodies deposited there by the mob. The project would have erected 460 units of housing, 140 of them affordable, in buildings four- to 12-stories high right along the waterfront.Well, the rumors are true...about the toxic part, if not the Mafia. Last week, the EPA declared the canal a Superfund site -- meaning they allocate moneys (hence the "fund" in Superfund) to clean it and consider it an official environmental hazard. And, after spending well over $300,000 on lobbying efforts, wrangling to change the zoning from manufacturing to mixed use and spending countless hours trying to convince Brooklynites that the project was a good fit, Toll Brothers has finally pulled out. They are disappointed not just for themselves, they say, but for the area as a whole. "It's unlikely you are going to see development there for many, many, many, many years," said Toll Brothers VP David Von Spreckelsen.

For folks who wanted the Superfund designation, this is a good thing: they don't want babies being raised next to one of this great Northeastern environmental hazard. But those who supported Toll Brothers had another argument: since the area is relatively underpopulated compared to its neighbors, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, it didn't have enough constituents to demand clean-up. Put the people there, they reasoned, and the people will insist on safety, especially if they're paying for a luxury townhouse with a garage and a gym.

Clearly, it's going to be a much longer road to development now, Von Spreckelsen is right about that. But, according to The New York Times, it's worth the wait. Apparently after Superfund sites are cleaned up, property values tend to rise.
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