Yesterday, I attended the testimony on the Scoping Session for the Toll Brothers' Gowanus project at 363-365 Bond Street. Though it was difficult to make the time, I am so glad I attended. Many Carroll Gardens' residents spoke in front of the City Planning board with such conviction, such knowledge, that I was proud to be their neighbor.
Clearly urging the Board to not issue the spot zoning change that Toll Brothers' will need to push their project through, Carroll Gardens residents listed some of their concerns. Amongst the issues raised where the obvious hazards of building on a very polluted site as well as the recurrent flooding around the canal.
However, one of the testimonies that stood out more than the others was given by Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6. His speech was poignant and impressive and showed a deep commitment to serving the people along the Gowanus who will be most affected by the development. With his permission, I am reprinting his speech here. I hope you will find it as courageous as I did.
GOOD AFTERNOON! MY NAME IS CRAIG HAMMERMAN AND I AM THE DISTRICT MANAGER OF BROOKLYN COMMUNITY BOARD 6.
WE'RE HERE TODAY TO TALK ABOUT THE DRAFT SCOPE OF WORK FOR A MAJOR DEVELOPMENT PROJECT PROPOSED FOR NEARLY TWO SQUARE BLOCKS ON THE BANKS OF THE GOWANUS CANAL IN MY DISTRICT. FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS WE HAVE WORKED WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF CITY PLANNING IN DEVELOPING A LAND USE FRAMEWORK FOR THE GOWANUS CANAL CORRIDOR. THROUGHOUT THIS PROCESS WE CAME TOGETHER IN EARNEST TO ENCOURAGE AND ASSIST OUR COMMUNITY TO ARTICULATE THEIR VISION FOR THIS COMMUNITY. THE COMMUNITY I'M REFERRING TO BY THE WAY IS THE "GOWANUS" COMMUNITY, NOT "CARROLL GARDENS" AS THE DEPARTMENT'S DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT IN THE POSITIVE DECLARATION READS.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO MAY BE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE DIFFERENCE - CARROLL GARDENS IS A RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY STRUGGLING WITH PRESERVING ITS BEAUTIFUL 19TH CENTURY ROWHOUSE BROWNSTONES. IT'S A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN LOBBYING ACTIVELY FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF CITY PLANNING TO APPLY CONTEXTUAL ZONING PROTECTIONS TO PREVENT FURTHER DESTRUCTION OF ITS BUILT FORM. WE KNOW THE DEPARTMENT HAS COMMITTED TO LOOKING AT CARROLL GARDENS AT SOME UNSPECIFIED FUTURE DATE. IT IS APPARENT, HOWEVER, THAT WE WILL LIKELY NEED TO WAIT FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION TO TAKE OVER BEFORE THAT WILL HAPPEN. IN THE INTERIM, IRREPARABLE DAMAGES TO THE COMMUNITY WILL CONTINUE TO MOUNT. THE DECISION NOT TO ACT EXPEDITIOUSLY IS A CONSCIOUS ACT THAT SUGGESTS OUR CITY GOVERNMENT IS NOT THERE TO PROTECT US. BUT WE'RE HERE TODAY TO TALK ABOUT GOWANUS, NOT CARROLL GARDENS.
UNLIKE CARROLL GARDENS, GOWANUS IS A MIXED-USE COMMUNITY WITH AN IMPORTANT INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE WHOSE DISTINCT ARCHITECTURE HAS BEEN DEEMED ELIGIBLE BY THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS FOR LISTING IN THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. IT IS A SPARSELY POPULATED WATERFRONT COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN A MANUFACTURING CENTER, PROVIDING ESSENTIAL GOODS AND JOBS TO THE REGION SINCE THE CANAL WAS CONSTRUCTED OVER A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. UNLIKE THE BROWNSTONE COMMUNITIES OF CARROLL GARDENS, BOERUM HILL AND PARK SLOPE THAT RING GOWANUS, GOWANUS IS A COMMUNITY STRUGGLING TO KEEP ITS UNIQUE IDENTITY, PRESERVE ITS DISTINCTIVE BUILT FORM, AND GET GOVERNMENT TO CLEAN UP THE POLLUTED WATER AND CONTAMINATED LAND AROUND THE CANAL.
DECADES OF BENIGN NEGLECT BY GOVERNMENT AT EVERY LEVEL HAS ALLOWED THIS AREA TO BECOME A FORLORN AND FESTERING WATERWAY WITH BROWNFIELDS AND TOXIC POLLUTANTS SATURATING ADJACENT PROPERTIES. WERE IT NOT FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FIXING ITS FLUSHING TUNNEL AND PUMP STATION BACK IN 1999, AFTER 35 YEARS OF DISREPAIR, WE CERTAINLY WOULD NOT BE HERE TODAY. NOBODY WOULD LIVE THAT CLOSE TO A CANAL WHOS SMELL COULD KNOCK YOU OVER. NOW THAT THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS REALIZED THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OF THIS AREA, THE CHEAP UN- AND UNDER-DEVELOPED LAND, THE PROXIMITY TO BROWNSTONE BROOKLYN, THE OPEN SPACE AND THE CANAL ITSELF, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC FORCES SEEM TO HAVE WRENCHED CONTROL OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD'S DESTINY FROM THE COMMUNITY ITSELF. THE COMMUNITY IS HERE TODAY TO TAKE IT BACK.
I HAVE SPENT MANY VOLUNTEER HOURS WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM TO HELP EDUCATE THEM ON HOW THE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW PROCESS WORKS, WHAT ULURP IS, AND HOW THE COMMUNITY CAN ENGAGE CONSTRUCTIVELY. UNFORTUNATELY, I ALSO KNOW TOO WELL THAT THE PROCESS DOES NOT ALWAYS WORK FOR COMMUNITIES LIKE OURS. TOO MANY TIMES WE HAVE SEEN ITEMS DISCLOSED IN EIS'S THAT ARE NEVER MITIGATED, BECAUSE DISCLOSURE, NOT MITIGATION, IS THE MOST THAT APPLICANTS CAN DO. THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES THAT GOVERNMENT WILL STEP IN AND MITIGATE. THAT'S WRONG AND THAT HAS TO CHANGE.
THIS AFTERNOON AND EVENING YOU WILL HEAR FROM SOME VERY THOUGHTFUL, ENERGETIC, INTELLIGENT AND COMMITTED FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS OF MINE. CITIZENS ALL. THEY HAVE DONE THEIR HOMEWORK. THEY HAVE STUDIED THE DRAFT SCOPE OF WORK. THEY HAVE USED THE CITY ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY REVIEW TECHNICAL MANUAL AS A FRAMEWORK FOR RAISING ISSUES. OF COURSE WE COULD NOT AFFORD TO HIRE AKRF LIKE THE DEVELOPER DID FOR THIS PROJECT, AND THE CITY DID WHEN IT REVISED THE CEQR TECHNICAL MANUAL IN 2001, BUT WE'RE RAISING AN ARMY OF CITIZEN PLANNERS TO RAISE THE ISSUES THAT WE BELIEVE MUST BE CONSIDERED. WE KNOW THAT IF AN ISSUE DOESN'T MAKE IT INTO THE SCOPE WE CAN'T GET IT STUDIED, AND IF IT ISN'T STUDIED IT CAN'T BE CONSIDERED WHEN LOOKING AT CHANGES TO THE PROJECT.
CB6 WILL SUBMIT OUR SPECIFIC COMMENTS ON THE SCOPE OF WORK IN WRITING BY THE MARCH 24 DEADLINE. TODAY, I SIMPLY WANTED TO INTRODUCE YOU TO OUR GOWANUS COMMUNITY. A DISTINCT COMMUNITY. A PROUD COMMUNITY, THAT HAS A LOT TO BE PROUD OF. AND A COMMUNITY YOU WILL BE HEARING A LOT MORE FROM IN THE COMING MONTHS BECAUSE THEY HAVE A LOT TO SAY. I THINK WE'D ALL BE A LOT WISER TO LISTEN TO THEM.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION.
[where: Gowanus, Toll Brothers, Brooklyn, 11231]