Fate of Toll Brothers’ Gowanus project looks positive

By James Kelly | January 07, 2009 06:13PM

Toll Brothers could be one step closer to building its massive Gowanus project in Caroll Gardens.

The City Planning Commission today reviewed the company’s proposal for a three-acre rezoning along the Gowanus Canal, and the agency will vote on its approval by Feb. 17. If it is green-lighted, the next and final step in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is approval by the City Council, which will have 50 days to make a decision.   

Toll Brothers Senior Vice President David Von Spreckelsen told The Real Deal that the developer is confident it will pass this stage of the ULURP, and Community Board 6 Chairman Craig Hammerman offered a similar opinion.

“I don’t think [the City Planning Commission] would have certified [it for ULURP] if they didn’t plan to approve it,” Hammerman said.

The City Planning Commission would not comment on the likelihood of the project’s passage.

“Recommendations from the borough president and community board as well as members of the public are an important and vital part of the public review process,” agency spokesperson Jennifer Torres wrote in an e-mail to The Real Deal. “The City Planning Commission will review these recommendations as well as public testimony at its public hearing before making a decision on this application.”

The Toll Brothers’ project at 363-365 Bond Street is expected to bring to the area around 460 residential units, 2,000 square feet of community facility space, 2,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and 260 parking spaces. Of the 460 apartments, 140 would be affordable rentals, and the remaining 320 would be market-rate condo units. A preliminary estimate by Von Spreckelsen put the condo prices between $700 and $800 per square foot.

Toll Brothers said it remains confident in its ability to finance the project, despite reporting a 41 percent decline in home building revenues, to $691 million, in the quarter ending October 31, 2008, the latest period for which data is available.

“We don’t seek project-specific construction financing from outside banks; we rely on internal cash flow,” Von Spreckelsen said, implying that the troubled credit market should not effect their plans for the site. “As a large, publicly-traded company, we’ve got cash reserves in excess of $1.5 billion, so we’re very, very solid for doing the project.”

The proposal seeks rezoning to allow for mixed-use and residential development in a two-block area bounded by Bond Street, Second Street, Carroll Street and the Gowanus Canal, currently zoned for manufacturing use; as well as an increase in maximum building height. The proposed development includes six buildings of heights up to 12 stories, or 125 feet.

The greatest opposition the developer has seen so far in the ULURP process came from last week’s review Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office. The office’s review, which is only advisory in nature, recommended a specific redesigning of the mixed-use project to reduce its maximum height from 125 feet, or 12 stories, to 85 feet, or 8 stories.

Despite the suggested decrease in maximum building height, the recommendation allows for the same floor area ratio and residential units, by increasing the height of other parts of the development, specifically residential townhouses which are four stories tall in the Toll Brothers’ plan, said architect John Hatheway, who discussed the borough president’s recommendation at today’s hearing. Hatheway’s connection to the project was not immediately clear.

Von Spreckelsen told said that the developer had not yet considered plan revisions in response to Markowitz’s recommendation.

Today, Toll Brothers spokesperson Julie Hendricks was more outspoken against the recommendation to reduce the development’s maximum height. She noted that it would increase the project’s construction costs, and decrease parking by five to 10 spaces. She also said that the recommended alteration “eliminates the four-story townhouses which keep with the character of the surrounding neighborhood’s architecture.”

Residents opposing Toll Brothers’ proposal throughout the ULURP process expressed their concern that such “spot” rezoning would simply encourage more developers to come in and propose parcel-by-parcel rezoning, thus hindering the area’s comprehensive rezoning process, which has been on the table for almost two years now.