GOWANUS — Home prices in Gowanus have shot up so much that the median asking price is now a staggering $1.4 million, but the neighborhood's largest affordable housing development is still years away from breaking ground, the developer said recently.
Gowanus Green, a 774-unit eight-building development where 70 percent of the apartments will be affordable, probably won't break ground for another three years, a spokesman for developer Hudson Companies told DNAinfo New York.
“It would be great if we could put a shovel in the ground in the beginning of 2018,” said Hudson Companies spokesman Aaron Koffman. “I would love to do it sooner...Now, more than ever, the affordable housing is so important."
Though the need for the project is growing more urgent by the day, Gowanus Green hasn't made much progress since 2008 when the city selected Hudson Companies to build the mixed use residential community on city-owned property overlooking the Gowanus Canal.
Since then the industrial neighborhood famous for its toxin-riddled canal has transformed into a real estate hot spot.
The median asking price ballooned from $630,500 in 2009 to $1,474,000 as of this month, according to data from StreetEasy. Median rents increased from $1,900 to $2,750 during the same period.
Gowanus Green faces two major hurdles before the developer can turn dirt: a concrete company that's been on the site for decades has to move off the property and the polluted land needs to be cleaned up enough so humans can live on it.
Officials say there's been progress on one of those fronts recently.
The concrete company, Ferrara Bros. Building Materials, is now in final negotiations with the city about moving to a new location. Officials expect to announce the relocation plan within months, a spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corporation said.
The deal took years and didn't come easily.
Ferrara Bros. bought its land in 1973, but the city took over its property and the surrounding area, known as Public Place, through eminent domain in 1977. Since then, Ferrara has rented its land from the city for $30,000 a month, according to court documents.
The city started eyeing Public Place for development in the 1970s, when plans were floated to build a park on the six-acre site, which is between Smith, Fifth and Huntington streets.
In 2003, Joseph Ferrara, then the vice president of Ferrara Bros., told the Daily News he hoped his busy concrete plant could "peacefully co-exist" with new development.
An NYCEDC spokesman declined to answer questions about whether Ferrara Bros. will be compensated, and Joseph Ferrara did not respond to requests for comment. His attorney declined to talk.
The city sued Ferrara Bros. in housing court in August 2014 and asked a judge to issue a warrant to remove the company from the land.
The two parties finally found a new location for Ferrara Bros. last fall, according to an NYCEDC spokesman, but Ferrara isn't expected to leave the property until 2016, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.
The DEC is overseeing the environmental cleanup of the land where Gowanus Green will rise.
In addition to affordable housing, the development is slated to include a park, canalside trail and "rain garden."
But these days the property is so polluted that it's considered "a threat to public health and the environment," according to a DEC report. The land was once home to a manufactured gas plant and now National Grid is responsible for cleaning it up.
The DEC has approved the utility's initial plan for cleanup, which will include building a barrier wall along the toxic canal and excavating part of the site, an agency spokesman said.
But progress has been hampered by the ongoing presence of Ferrara Bros., the DEC spokesman said.
Once the concrete company leaves, National Grid can solicit bids for cleanup contractors, but that probably won't happen until 2016 when Ferrara is off the site, the DEC spokesman said.
“There’s an undercurrent of trying to move this forward, but it’s going slow,” Koffman, the Hudson Companies spokesman, said. “These are big parts to move. We always say development is like herding cats. These are big important cats.”