Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why Is Ferrara Building New Structure On Public Place In Gowanus Rather Than Vacating So Site Can Be Remediated?

Last week, PMFA received emails from two readers who asked about the construction currently happening along 5th Street on the Public Place site adjacent to the Gowanus Canal.

Stephen, a local resident wrote: "I just went down 5th street between Hoyt and Smith. There is a building going up in the gas company lot across from the Kabir bakery. It looks like a warehouse definitely an industrial building. I thought that site was off limits for construction until the cleanup issue is resolved. Any idea what's going on?"

Anik, another neighborhood resident sent in the photo below of "a weird structure" being built on the site.
photo credit: Anik L.

I made it a point of walking along 5th Street along Public Place, where Ferrara Brothers operates one of their five a ready-mixed concrete batch plant in new York City. Sure enough, a construction crew was busy building a rather large steel-reinforced concrete structure on the City owned property.

For the past two or three years, the question of why Ferrara Brothers is expanding its operation on Public Place when the heavily contaminated site should be undergoing environmental remediation, has been repeatedly asked by the community.
Why should this be of concern to local residents?
Here is some background on Public Place:
The approximately 8.4 acre site was the home of the former Citizens Gas Light Company's 12th Ward Gas Work Plant, where coal and petroleum products were turned into flammable gas. The gas was used for cooking, lighting, heating and commercial purposes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, one of the by-products of this gasification process is coal tar, a black viscous liquid, which is harmful to the environment. Coal tar has been found at depths of 150 feet on the site.

The Citizens Gas Works plant was decommissioned in 1958. The responsibility for the clean-up falls on National Grid, which has entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

Since some of the coal tar has also been found to ooze from the site into the adjacent Gowanus Canal, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which declared the canal a Superfund site in 2010, is also involved. EPA has named National Grid a Potential Responsible Party [PRP] which means that the company will contribute to the Gowanus Canal clean-up.

The City of New York acquired ownership of Lots 1 and 100 of the former MGP site through a condemnation proceeding in 1975. That land is known in the community as "Public Place". The other parcels are privately owned.
Ferrara Brothers Concrete has been operating on lot 100 near 5h Street since the early 1970's. The company rents the land under a month-to month lease agreement with New York City.

There has been talk of Ferrara Brothers relocating since at least 2007. Obviously, the City has continued leasing the lot to them.
Granted, the actual environmental remediation has not actually begun yet, but one has to wonder if the expansion of Ferrara on the site has not hampered or even slowed things down somewhat since this has forced National Grid and the EPA to perform their remedial investigations around the concrete trucks.

Don't misunderstand. We should of course protect existing businesses in Gowanus, and cement plants are an important and necessary part of the city. However, Ferrara Brothers, which lists its main address in Flushing Queens, has four other plants.
From Ferrara Brothers' Facebook page:
"Over the past 45 years, we have grown to become a concrete producer whose name is synonymous with quality and service. From 5 trucks and one concrete plant to 80 trucks and 5 concrete plant, Ferrara Bros. continues to grow."

Interestingly enough, I came across an article from 2015, which mentions that Ferrara Brothers has been sold to U.S. Concrete, Inc.. It quotes Joseph A. Ferrara, President and CEO of Ferrara Brother: "Since our founding in 1969, and continuing through three generations of the Ferrara family, our company has consistently strived to enhance our position in the marketplace so as to better serve our customers, employees and other stakeholders. We greatly admire U.S. Concrete's strategic and financial achievements, and we are honored to become part of a national leader in our industry."

I have reached out to Christos Tsiamis, EPA Region 2's project manager for the Gowanus Canal Superfund and sent him the photos above of the construction activity on Public Place. He forwarded my inquiry to National Grid who "confirmed this is Ferrara related work and not National Grid's."

This all begs the question: Why is Ferrara/ U.S. Concrete, Inc. allowed by New York City to expand and build on Public Place?   It is hard to understand why the City wouldn't want to make things as easy as possible so that the complicated environmental remediation work can move forward with as few obstacles as possible. It is rather ironic given the fact that the City has slated their parcels for development. The Gowanus Green project would bring 770 units of affordable housing to the shores of the Gowanus.

A view of Public Place from 4th Place in the 1930's


Anonymous said...

That is clearly a holding pen for aggregate, not a building.

Katia said...

Still begs the same question….

Anonymous said...

I read that the city had not renewed their lease and that they had to vacate the property by the end of 2016 in order to begin the remediation for the residential complex that will be built there. Really odd that Ferrara's would be constructing anything if they have to be gone in 10 months.

Another question is what is going on in that massive warehouse next to Ferrara's that used to house the Brooklyn Fencing School? Last week, DNA Info said the owner had plans to put a behemoth restaurant in a portion of it.

Also, along 5th Street, which is a pot-hole ridden dumping ground, Kabir's Bakery has been using a detached trailer from a semi truck, as a food storage annex. Over the summer it was parked directly across from the bakery for a month before they finally moved it, only to have it return again for another long stretch. It's there now. It's never ticketed or towed since the driving portion is not connected, its only the trailer. I've seen the employees taking food products in and out of the trailer. This can't be according to Health Dept standards.

Dave said...

Why don't you call 311 or use the website to file a complaint? I think this is the correct form to report construction without a permit.

Based on the NYC tax map website, I believe this is Block 471 Lot 1, aka BIN 3800488, aka 42 5th street. You can see the (lack of) permit history at the DOB BIS page for that lot.

Anonymous said...

This lot has been used industrially for 150 years straight, and now because you have some pictures of some stones being assembled for a clear industrial use, this begs a question?

Come on, is this a parody of whiny gentrified neighborhood blogging, or are you for real?

Katia said...

You did not read the post carefully enough, Anon. I clearly write that we should support businesses in Gowanus, but the City wants to re-zone this lot for residential use. More most importantly, whether Ferrrara Brothers stays or the City allows 700 + apartments be built on it, it needs to be remediated so that the liquid tar stops oozing into the Gowanus Canal and underneath already existing homes.

Personally, I don't care if Ferrara Brothers stays for another 50 years AFTER remediation.

Anonymous said...

NYC Construction Code Definitions:

BUILDING.-An enclosed structure including service equipment therein. The term shall be construed as if followed by the phrase "structure, premises, or part thereof" unless otherwise indicated by the text.

BUILDINGS AND OTHER STRUCTURES, FLEXIBLE. Buildings and other structures that have a fundamental natural frequency less than 1 Hz.
BUILDING, ENCLOSED. A building that does not comply with the requirements for open or partially enclosed buildings.
BUILDING, LOW-RISE. Enclosed or partially enclosed buildings that comply with the following conditions:
1. Mean roof height, h, less than or equal to 60 feet (18 288 mm).
2. Mean roof height, h, does not exceed least horizontal dimension.

BUILDING, OPEN. A building having each wall at least 80 percent open.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Katia.

I was wondering what was going on with this. Seems like Ferrara has license to use the site as they see fit.

Thanks for posting.


Anonymous said...

Katia, you said that the city wants to rezone the area fro housing but that site was designated for a park with recreational fields, so who in city government wants to but housing on this old site filled with coal tar site that the State says can not be removes?

What city official wants to have families living on such a site?

Katia said...

Our Mayor certainly does. So does our current Councilman.

Anonymous said...

Please stop using the term "Public Place", a zoning map overlay as equivalent to "park".

Old versions of the NYC Zoning Resolution define the term clearly as land to be used for public purpose. A public purpose could be a homeless shelter, parking lot and arguably, a space to ensure concrete can be manufactured cheaply to support the development and maintenance of our City.

Oddly, the current version of zoning text has removed the definition but please check old versions.

What's upsetting is that members of this community think it's perfectly fine and acceptable to fence the entire sidewalk from public access for a decade and there's a concrete plant at the end of the street that could easily have poured a new sidewalk! Everyone should be calling 311 to report illegal sidewalk closure without permit.