Friday, January 15, 2021

This Just In: Voice Of Gowanus Files Lawsuit Against Ill-Advised Gowanus Rezoning Today

"We are ready to fight for our neighborhood and this community."
Voice of Gowanus

5:30 PM UPDATE from Voice of Gowanus:
Today we won a temporary restraining order on the Gowanus Rezoning! 🎉There’s a lot more to accomplish but we are excited for this first step. Thank you to all who have advocated for a better plan for Gowanus. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Gowanus Legal Defense Fund! And special thanks to our allies all across New York City who have been fighting unjust rezonings — this is a moment of celebration for us

Dear PMFA Readers,
Voice of Gowanus, a coalition of neighborhood civic associations, just announced that it is filing a lawsuit TODAY to challenge the proposed Gowanus rezoning! Please read VoG's press release below and stay tuned for more news!
And don't forget to donate to our Gowanus Legal Defense Fund to be part of the crew that made it happen.


Voice of Gowanus Challenges “Virtual” Review Process

GOWANUS, BROOKLYN - Attorneys for community coalition Voice of Gowanus (VOG) ​will​ ​file suit​ against New York City’s Department of City Planning today. The legal suit, to be filed in State Supreme Court in Kings County, challenges the de Blasio Administration’s illegal plan to use a so-called “virtual” land use review procedure for the proposed Gowanus rezoning.

The suit challenges multiple aspects of the largest proposed city-led rezoning in recent times—at 80 square blocks, more than twice the size of Hudson Yards—and seeks to stop the de Blasio Administration's attempt to ram it through in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, when the public is unable to participate fully.

“When you’re dealing with a massive project of this scale that is going to impact so many people’s lives, the community must have its voice heard; that is simply not possible with virtual public hearings,” said VOG’s attorney Jason Zakai of Hiller, P.C. ​“There are detailed, step-by-step rules laid out in City law on how to conduct the public review process. They are there for a reason, and the City must follow them, even if that means waiting until the pandemic is over.”

The suit calls for the start of the Uniform Land-Use Review Process (ULURP) to be temporarily delayed until the pandemic has been brought under control, and aims to stop the Department of City Planning from certifying the proposal on January 19th, 2021.

“Virtual ULURP is illegal pure and simple,” said Penn Rhodeen, an attorney and member of the VOG legal committee. “ULURP was already tilted against the community prior to the pandemic. Now the city tries to create a false sense of urgency for this rezoning in a shameful attempt to justify an even more watered-down approach to the public review that is guaranteed by the city’s charter. Our suit is on the right side of the facts and the right side of the law. Suits like that win.”

VOG also continues to consult with environmental expert Maureen Koetz regarding significant health and safety issues related to the toxic pollution and raw sewage overflows in the Gowanus Canal, an EPA Superfund site that lies at the center of the proposed rezoning area. The​ Gowanus Legal Defense Fund​ continues to generate support for suits that challenge this deeply flawed rezoning proposal.

“We have been watching with horror for years as the ill-advised Gowanus rezoning crept forward. We tried to improve the plan through our civic engagement, but the city thinks it knows best and has left us with no choice but to file an action to stop this de Blasio madness,” said local resident Debbie Stoller of VOG. “Gowanus deserves better - that’s what we’re fighting for.”

Voice of Gowanus


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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Voice of Gowanus Has Lawyered Up To Challenge Gowanus Rezoning

Voice of Gowanus at a press conference at noon today

Members of Voice of Gowanus held a press conference at noon today to announce that its coalition of neighborhood civic groups has retained a lawyer and an environmental consultant to challenge New York City's rezoning of the massive Gowanus rezoning from industrial/manufacturing to mostly residential.
Of course, Pardon Me For Asking was there to capture the event...and to speak.

Please take a look at the video to understand why VoG is opposed to the rezoning,
Below find Voice of Gowanus' statement on retaining legal council. I encourage everyone to contribute to Gowanus Legal Defense Fund

January 12, 2021 

Coalition Retains Counsel, Mulls Challenge To Gowanus Rezoning

GOWANUS, BROOKLYN – Voice of Gowanus, a grassroots community coalition, announced today that it has retained legal counsel and is contemplating possible legal challenges to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s and City Planning’s deeply flawed rezoning proposed for Gowanus, Brooklyn.

“The proposed rezoning stinks worse than the Gowanus Canal on a bad day,” said Katia Kelly of Voice of Gowanus. “We’ve retained counsel, and we’ll fight the city’s ill-advised plan in court if we must.”

Attorney Jason Zakai of the law firm Hiller, P.C. will represent Voice of Gowanus as legal counsel, working with the group’s legal committee, which itself is comprised of several attorneys. Hiller, PC is the leading opposition land-use, zoning and preservation law firm in New York City. Dedicated to preserving neighborhoods and protecting communities from out-of-control development, the firm regularly takes on legal challenges against arbitrary and capricious City land-use approvals, or those that violate lawful procedure.

“There are serious problems both with the massive rezoning proposal itself, and with the lack of transparency concerning the proposal, and we are looking into all legal options on behalf of our client,” Zakai said. “Rather than move forward with such a problematic plan, the City should go back to the drawing board and shelve it for another day.”

Voice of Gowanus previously launched the Gowanus Legal Defense Fund to raise financial support for the legal effort and continues to fundraise. An outpouring of community support for the Fund indicates the intense level of concern about a rezoning that stands to increase raw sewage overflows into the Gowanus Canal and compromise the Gowanus superfund cleanup.

The rezoning, which seeks to permit 22-30 story luxury residential towers in a vulnerable flood zone, also proposes placing housing on Public Place, one of the most toxic sites in the city, which will never be fully cleaned of plumes of carcinogenic coal tar extending 100 feet below the surface.

“We’re also excited to announced that Voice of Gowanus has retained environmental administrative law expert Maureen Koetz, a veteran of earlier fights against wanton rezoning actions here in New York City,” said Jack Riccobono of Voice of Gowanus. “We are ready to go to the mat to stop this incredibly unwise push to rezone a neighborhood during a pandemic.”

Voice of Gowanus has also repeatedly raised concerns about the city’s strange rush to ram the rezoning through during the middle of the global pandemic.

“Protecting our community’s rights to due process and ensuring that laws are followed even during a pandemic are top priorities for us,” said Brad Vogel of Voice of Gowanus. “Just because a mayor or council member’s term will be ending doesn’t mean the rules regarding land use review can be suspended. Especially when the proposed rezoning is as drastic and unsustainable as the one being put forward here in Gowanus.”

For more on Voice of Gowanus and concerns about the Gowanus rezoning:

Jack Riccobono of Voice of Gowanus
Brad Vogel, VoG member
Linda LaViolette of VoG

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Monday, January 11, 2021

A Reminder To All That We Need To Continue Fighting For The "Most Stringent, Future-Thinking Mitigation Measures" For Gowanus

It is hard to believe that 2021 is only a few days old, what with all the events of the past week. When the country seems out of control and many feel powerless, it may make sense to remind ourselves that we can still help bring about  significant change and a better outcome for our communities through old-fashioned  peaceful activism.  

In 2009 and 2010, I was a member of the largest coalition of South Brooklyn civic groups from both sides of the canal ever assembled to fight for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placing the Gowanus Canal on its list of Superfunds.  
The common mission of all those in the coalition was to demonstrate that our community stood united and firmly behind the Superfund designation for the heavily polluted canal, because we had come to understand that only the Federal Government has the science, know-how and the best array of tools at their disposal to clean the canal to the highest level. Nothing else would do.

It was a hard fight.  Many may remember that then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg set in motion a shameless lobbying campaign to derail the Superfund designation. He was supported in his efforts by our then-Councilmember Bill de Blasio.
Their reasons for blocking the nomination became clear quite quickly: 
the EPA identified New York City as the second largest polluter of the Gowanus for allowing untreated sewage to discharge into the canal during heavy rain events. At the same time, Bloomberg and De Blasio were pushing a rezoning of the Gowanus area from manufacturing to mostly residential.
Developers, who had already speculated and secured their plot of land in Gowanus, were not happy about the EPA designation. They were lobbying our elected officials themselves and donated generously to deBlasio's  own Mayoral  Campaign.

Of course, the community and science prevailed and the EPA placed the Gowanus Canal on its list of most polluted sites in 2010.  Just this past November, the long awaited dredging of toxic material at the bottom of the waterway began. It was a proud moment for those who had fought so hard for it.

My friend and long-time Cobble Hill resident Roy Sloane, who represented the Cobble Hill Association in our coalition, recently reminded me of this important win for the community.
In his letter below, he encourages us all to continuing to advocate for the most thorough environmental clean-up and for the future of Gowanus.
Thank you for allowing me to share your words of caution with the community, Roy.
Hi Katia,

I wanted to write to congratulate you, all of the community associations and all of the individuals who were part of the coalition that fought to have the Gowanus Canal designated as a Superfund site. The start of the dredging that began on November 19th is the direct result of this community-initiated effort and truly marks the beginning of an exciting new era for the Gowanus Canal and it’s surrounding community. I am proud to have been a part of the grand alliance of civic organizations we assembled for the fight to clean up the Love Canal in our midst and want to thank all of the individuals and civic associations who helped make this incredible, positive transformation possible!

The clean-up of the Gowanus Canal should be added to the list of major citizen-initiated movements that have helped transform Brooklyn into one of the most exciting, vibrant urban communities in the world: the brownstone revival movement that took root here in the 50’s and 60’s, the citizen-led effort that led to the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park and even the creation of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. These all began as individual efforts and civic initiatives. The canal clean-up will rank high as one more example of the community-powered, community-led movements that have contributed so much to improving the quality of life in Brooklyn.

I do urge all to continue the fight to guarantee that all contaminants and toxic materials are safely removed and to insist on the most stringent, future-thinking mitigation measures be required to completely protect any future residents. For all of us, the battle was not to re-build or re-develop the Gowanus neighborhood, it was to protect all our current and future residents. Personally, I do also hope that a slower pace of development post-COVID might allow for the preservation and protection of more of the historic architectural and industrial character of the Gowanus.

Again, thank you to the great coalition of organizations that united to fight for the Superfund designation just a few years ago — Friends And Residents Of Greater Gowanus , Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development , Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Gowanus Houses, Cobble Hill Association and Riverkeeper and especially all the individuals who participated in the lobbying effort should take deep pride that this major milestone has been achieved: dredging has actually begun!

All the best, Roy Sloane

Roy Sloane, long time Cobble Hill resident and former Cobble Hill Association president

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

An Unusual Year In Review: 2020 in Carroll Gardens

What an unusual year 2020 has been. It began with so much hope and plans. Yet, Covid-19 changed our world and threw us all into turmoil as we  dealt with our new reality.  Seemingly, nothing will ever be the same, yet we move forward to the best of our ability. And here we are, ready to step into another year.
But before we do, perhaps you might like to come along with PMFA to review 2020 in photos taken in and around our beloved Carroll Gardens.

Yes, so much has changed in these twelve months: we lost family members, lost jobs, saw neighbors move out of the city, favorite bars and restaurants called it quits, so many stores closed, we spent too much time at home, craving a simpler time when we could gather. 

Perhaps it is foolish to hope that 2021 might bring some normalcy. If there is anything we should have learned, it is that making predictions or resolutions at New Year's is perhaps not wise.

We can and should, however, be grateful for what the pandemic has not taken from us. So here is to our lovely neighborhood and to our wonderful community. 

Wishing you all a lovely and healthy New Year, friends.  Read more

Monday, December 21, 2020

Meet Dean Haspiel, The Comic Book Artist, Author, And Creator Of 'The Red Hook', Brooklyn's Very Own Superhero

Dean Haspiel, author, artist, cartoonist

I have often mentioned that one of the greatest pleasures of writing about Carroll Gardens and Gowanus is the opportunity to meet and introduce interesting people in the neighborhood to others. In that spirit, let me introduce you to artist/writer and New York City native Dean Haspiel, who was gracious enough to spend some time speaking with me about his work, which includes several plays and a pair of graphic novel series Billy Dogma, and The Red Hook.

I met Dean Haspiel on a recent Saturday, while I was handing out fliers on the proposed Gowanus rezoning and speaking to local residents about new development and displacement. It turns out, Dean personally knows a fair bit about the subject of displacement, having just been told that he and several artists who share a work space would have to move out of yet another studio in Gowanus, displaced by rising rents and by developers targeting the area for luxury housing. "We keep getting ousted," he told me during our first meeting.

A few weeks later, Haspiel and I met in Carroll Park for a longer conversation about the neighborhood, its past, present, and future. Haspiel spent his childhood in Manhattan, before rising rents pushed him over the Brooklyn Bridge to Carroll Gardens in 1997, at a time when it was mostly still a working-class Italian neighborhood.

His semi-autobiographical black-and-white graphic novel "Beef with Tomato" published by Alternative Comics, tells of some of his early encounters with the older Italian gentlemen on his block, who would give him "the hairy eyeball" and call him "yuppie" behind barely disguised coughs.
"When I moved here 23-plus years ago, I thought I knew everything about New York City that I needed to know. And little did I know."
The little vignettes in Beef with Tomato all happened to Haspiel, though he calls himself Jack in the book. "There is a story in there about neighbors, and about 9/11, which I witnessed from my window on Carroll Street."

Brooklyn also featured prominently in his series "The Red Hook". Its main character, Sam Brosia, a.k.a the Red Hook, is a super-thief who is "bequeathed the Omni-fist of Altruism and transformed into a hero against his will" a year after a sentient Brooklyn, sick of pollution, greed and superficiality physically secedes from the rest of the country. In its place, 'New Brooklyn' is born, a place which fosters culture, community, and where art is honored, and can be bartered for food and services.

"One of the things that spawned The Red Hook was me being in a studio with other artists carving out our little spot, to be able to make stuff," Haspiel explained to me. "A few years go by and the artist warehouse is being sold to become something much more expensive. We keep on getting ousted and pushed away farther and farther."
According to Haspiel, in order to be able to afford studio rent, artists find spots where no one wants to go. But when they create cool art, they attract attention to the places they occupy. "Outliers make an unlikely place attractive, and then developers come and say 'Well, now that they have done the hard stuff, let's build new structures here.' And they literally just kick out the artists who are just trying to make it. That seems to be the domino effect."

And that domino effect is currently happening in Gowanus, Red Hook and many other Brooklyn neighborhoods. It almost makes one wish for a New Brooklyn.

All volumes of Dean Haspiel's THE RED HOOK are available online at Webtoon:
Volume 2: WAR CRY
Volume 4: BLACKOUT
(Blackout is the current season, which will end in late 2021.)
The Red Hook volumes 1 and 2  in print are available through Image Comics

You can follow Haspiel on Instagram here:

Below, "The Currency of Community", a four-page Red Hook story about the pandemic. It was originally published in PANDEMIX, Quarantine Comics in the Age of 'Rona, a benefit for artists in need through The Hero Initiative.

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