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‘Tricky’ Toll Bros. irk CB6

When Community Board 6 gave its blessing in November to a massive residential housing complex near the Gowanus Canal, it did so with the belief that a sizable portion of the controversial project would include affordable housing.  

Now, the board is not so sure, and it’s searching for answers.

At its February general meeting, the community board voted overwhelmingly to supplement its previous position, which was to conditionally support Toll Brothers’ project, a 605,380-square-foot development with 477 residential units on two city blocks bounded by Bond Street, 2nd Street, Carroll Street and Canal. Roughly 140 of the units were to made affordable to various income levels.

“We want to emphasize how important it is to make sure that the affordable housing component of this project actually is built, in return for giving the applicant permission to build higher and with more bulk than otherwise would be acceptable to this community,” reads a Feb. 12 letter to Amanda Burden, chair of the City Planning Commission, which unanimously approved the project this week.

The board contends that it was under the impression that the affordable housing component would be required by deed restrictions that Toll agreed to place on the property. But, the letter continues, “We recently learned that Toll Brothers has not agreed to place the affordable housing requirement in deed restriction, and that, therefore, there is a possibility that they could build the full height and bulk allowed by the proposed rezoning without including any affordable housing.”

“This is unacceptable,” the letter states. If no affordable housing is built, then Toll should be required to seek a fresh zoning approval, the board argued, imploring on City Planning to provide some clarity to the matter.

“It’s not a knock on Toll, but we just want to make sure that whatever the applicant promised, we get,” Board 6 Chair Richard Bashner said,

The project will fall under the city’s inclusionary zoning program, which will compel the developer to add affordable units in order to add to the size and bulk of the project. The developer would receive a 33 percent floor area bonus if 20 percent of the units are made affordable. 

“If the applicant does not choose to provide the affordable housing component, the project would be subject to a lower floor area ratio, said Jennifer Torres, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, referring to a calculation of a project’s density.

David Von Spreckelsen, vice president of Toll Brothers City Living, said his company never agreed to a deed restriction. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever put affordable housing in the deed restriction,” he said,

“Affordable housing requires subsidies, and if we are not able to get the subsidy we would not proceed. It’s just not economically feasible,” he continued. “There has never been a project in New York City that has affordable housing that proceeded without a subsidy,” he said.

But, he quickly noted, Toll expects to get the funding it needs to make the affordable housing a reality.

“We have been talking about affordable housing being a part of this from the beginning,’ he said, “We said we would keep trying to pursue the affordable housing even if subsidies are not available on the first try.”

Moreover, he said, the project, as initially proposed, “is the one we want to build. It is the most profitable to us, it has the most market rate housing.”

The affordable units will be developed by L&M Equities;  Toll, the country’s largest homebuilder, will build the remaining market rate housing, which will be condominiums. “Our partner is the most experienced affordable housing developer. There is no reason to think we won’t get this,” Von Spreckelsen added. Funding will come in the form of a variety of tax incentives, and low interest bonds, he noted.

Von Spreckelsen said the fiscal crisis is not expected to disrupt Toll’s plan, or prevent it from securing funding from the city.  Tax revenue generated from the project moving forward generates more in the long run than the incentives provided, he noted.

Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, said the board is still awaiting an official assurance.

“All we are looking for is some guarantee somewhere that has not been made clear to us by the experts,” he said. “If they can’t build the affordable housing, the community board would be interested in any modifications they might make to the plan which could change [our] default disapproval into something the board finds agreeable.”

The project is still undergoing a public review, and still requires approval by the City Council. Toll is seeking a zoning change, the creation of a special mixed use district, and a special permit for a general large scale development. If the plan gets the necessary approvals, Toll would finalize the purchase of the land at this spring or summer, Von Spreckelsen said.

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