Not so fast: Gowanus residents demand city halt rezoning until feds clean up Superfund site

Hold your horses: Members of the watchdog group Gowanus Canal Advisory Group called out city agencies for rushing ahead with the neighborhood’s rezoning before the feds finish up their cleanup.
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The city must halt its rezoning until the feds complete their cleanup of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site, locals demanded at a recent community meeting.

Members of the local watchdog organization the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory blasted reps from the Department of City Planning for moving ahead with the controversial rezoning, which would likely see thousands of newcomers join the neighborhood, before the Environmental Protection Agency can mitigate the millions of gallons of rainwater and raw sewage that run into the fetid canal every year, according to one Gowanusaur.

“Why wouldn’t the city go ahead and finish the tank to bring some real [Combined Sewage Overflow] relief before any rezoning. That to me just seems to be a no-brainer,” Katia Kelly said at the St. Mary Star of the Sea retirement home on March 26.

The department must wait until the city can assess how much overflow the canal can handle with the amount of people living there now before its proposal opens the floodgate for eager developers to build 22-story towers along Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, according to Kelly.

“Why wouldn’t you go ahead and plan? I mean we’re talking about city planning, planning enough to hold CSOs,” she said. “Let’s build the tanks first and then see what this area can hold.”

Some 377 million gallons of overflow from raw sewage and rainwater pours into the canal every year and the city is required under the Federal Superfund program and the Clean Water Act to invest in infrastructure to reduce the amount to 115 million gallons per year.

For years the plans were to build a four and an eight million gallon tank at the head of the canal, but two months ago, the city proposed building a 16 million gallon tunnel instead of the cisterns, which the feds would still need to sign off on.

The construction of either the tanks or the tunnel will not wrap up until 2030.

The city just announced it will host a public scoping meeting on April 25, when locals can weigh in on the environmental review officials must conduct before the rezoning proposal begins its journey through the roughly seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which it must pass before any of the tall buildings can go up.

The department has yet to announce a start date for the review procedure, according to spokesman Joe Marvilli.

One local educator said that allowing for the upzoning before making sure the area could handle it didn’t make sense and compared the process to her own profession, asking why that didn’t apply to keeping the public safe.

“We have to say in September where we want to get to in June,” said Triada Samaras. “We can’t start in September and say ‘I think we’ll go this way.’ It’s now illegal for teachers to do this; we’re being held to this standard, so I don’t see that when it’s the public health that’s at issue, why we can’t start at the end.”

But despite residents’ growing concerns, the rezoning’s chief planner argued that waiting for the necessary infrastructure first wouldn’t be feasible given the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“When we propose density of moderate density or higher, there’s a lot of questions like this. Not just sewage, but also transit and schools and people saying, ‘why don’t you build every single school before any development ever happens.’ And so there’s a lot of differing opinions on that,” said Jonathan Keller.

“But we also have to talk about the tradeoffs, the tradeoffs of an affordability crisis, the fact that we also have 60,000 people who are homeless and that we’re looking to accommodate growth and that we can’t just stop change from happening,” the planner added.

The city previously tried to rezone the neighborhood due to its location between two of the borough’s most expensive nabes, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, but put the redrawing on hold after once-eager developers shied away when the feds named the canal a Superfund site in 2010, according to reports from the New York Times.

The renewed push to allow for higher density in the area is out of sync with efforts by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection and the federal agency to clean up the site, according to Kelly, which will create problems for both current and new Gowanusaurs down the pike.

“We’re talking about raw sewage here, we’re talking about floating, raw sewage,” she said. “You’re going to have all these new residents sitting next to a cesspool. And that’s serious to me.”

The draft rezoning is still up for debate by local pols and the community, which will allow for them to have their say as to whether the nabe can handle the extra populace.

“The process is not done. We need to disclose what is going to need to occur or if we can’t solve all the problems that are outlined in the draft proposal impact statement, that needs to be disclosed so elected officials and folks can actually have a discussion about whether this should actually be approved or not,” Keller said.

Keller suggested that locals voice their concern at the upcoming scoping meeting, which will be held in the auditorium of Middle School 51 at 350 Fifth Ave., at Fourth Street, on April 25 at 4 p.m.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 12:12 pm, April 2, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

City Hall is a failure from Brooklyn says:
YOU must cleanup the site before building. WTF is wrong with the Deblasio administration. Oh, I know....he has staff like Emma Wolfe the alleged chief of staff who listens to REBNY. The staff at the mayors office are inept in so many ways with no life skills, no understanding of landuse issues, the sustainability office has a limited staff but everyone has fancy titles. Deblasio needs to wake-up and show up at a meeting, but he's too busy thinking he is going to run for president which is a bigly joke.
April 2, 2019, 5:52 pm
Joe from Gowanus says:
The City dropped a 8,000 apartment proposal on Gowanus but it looks to generate 12,000 apartments and no one is discussing the failed environmental review which is supposed to be evaluated in April. Bridges and PLACES precedent studies sparked a real estate frenzy of assembled properties in advance of ULURP. That is alot of affordable housing! Or alit of development depending on your stance. But ... at what cost? Everything we love of Gowanus may soon be lost! DCP requires a 40ft waterfront front yard for rich white people and 0.2 of "affordable people" cant use the building rooftop decks or communal spaces without paying a fee. This is NOT a diverse and equitable Gowanus as we know it! Instead, ask for the scope to REQUIRE what you & Gowanus wants? Demand a required retail, artisan, maker, boating, retail, access to water, etc in the proposed zoning? Consider your passion and ask for any amenity as a requirement if they want to build along our Gowanus shoreline. Show up, sign up, speak!
April 2, 2019, 9:16 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
Smells like the usual pay-to-play between developers and politicans. There is no reason to build residential buildings near the Gowanus accept greed. Affordable housing that's not safe is not true affordable housing, and both rich and poor alike will suffer. Stop this madness; follow the money.
April 3, 2019, 12:55 pm
Brooklyn for Real says:
Brad Lander selling his constituents a bunch of lies. He’s puppet for the real estate speculators who purchased inexpensive polluted sites along the canal adjacent to expensive Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Rezoning and Upzoning hands extremely valuable air rights to the owners of those sites. It happened in Williamsburg / Greenpoint and Downtown Brooklyn. How can a city government that can’t afford to fix NYCHA buildings or our subway have the audacity to not sell but give away millions of dollars worth of air rights to a handful of speculative real estate developers. It should be criminal. Well we have a public advocate who claims he’s going to stop these leeches from this ——. Wether it’s Dept. of City Planning or the Board of Standards and Appeal dispensing air rights they must be purchased at actual market value not given away for free. There never was a time when a current resident of Brad Landers district (Park Slope, Gowanus and Carroll Gardens) said we are lacking 8200 more apartments. We don’t need to live in over populated neighborhood without available spots in local schools. Do not support an increase of residential rental apartments in Gowanus. Allow Gowanus to remain as a place of employment. City planning should rezone the area to allow for an increase in light manufacturing, office space, arts, cultural and neighbor commercial businesses: restaurants and retail. We shouldn’t be forced to commute on overcrowded subways into Manhattan for work. Provide zoning that allows businesses that employ Brooklynites close to home. These proposed residential buildings will not have to pay any property tax. Absolutely nothing. The government just renamed the 421a program and neglected to tell the public that these massive for profit rental buildings will not contribute one penny in property tax. How is that fair to all of the other resident who have to pay tax on their house or apartment. Make sure you pay your tax bill or Dept of Housing may steal it from you in the “third party system” Say no to giving away air rights and tax abated over built apartment buildings. If that’s not enough for you walk next the two massive rental buildings on First Street and the canal on Garbage night. That’s what the future of gowanus will look like. Massive mounts of trash 5 feet high. Do you like rats? Brad Lander: “Brad Lander. “The draft zoning proposal and framework updates address issues of environmental remediation and sustainability, a dynamic and resilient waterfront, significant new affordable and market-rate housing, public housing improvements, preserving the ‘Gowanus mix’ of arts and manufacturing, integrated schools, historic preservation, new open space, and school and transit improvements.” Dept of City Plannning cannot and does not have the ability to influence schools, transit or historic preservtion. Lies Lies Lies. Brad you were elected to serve the current residents not the real estate speculators: Abe Rosen, Yoel Goodman, Jared Kushner and friends.
April 4, 2019, 4:15 pm

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