"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?" Jacqueline Kennedy

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Badly Done, City Planning! Badly Done!: City Faces Angry Residents At Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal Meeting Last Night

Winston Von Engel, Director of the Brooklyn office for the NYC Department of City Planning
DCP project manager Jonathan Keller
Members of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition For Justice
NYCHA resident Karen Blondel and Zac Martin of Trellis
NYC DCP's Winston Von Engel, addressing angry residents
Councilman Brad Lander (left), standing in the crowd.

Yesterday evening's presentation of the Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal must have been very rough for representatives of  the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP)'s Brooklyn office, as they faced a mostly hostile Gowanus community.  It was entirely predictable and of DCP's own making.

Instead of providing local residents with a forum in which they could ask questions and get answers communally, DCP had basically printed out its online presentation on poster boards and taped them to the wall of PS32's gym.  As one local resident tweeted, 'the city attempted to turn it into a science fair style open house', which backfired big time. It was obvious from the start that the whole thing had been designed to control rather than to engage stakeholders.

People were generally angry that there was no formal Q and A session this late in the rezoning process. Some called it unprofessional, a total waste of time. Others felt it was disrespectful, especially since many had been involved with the community visioning process for the last two years.

Members of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition For Justice (GNCJ) tried to engage DCP in a more meaningful conversation by bringing a PA system and by setting up chairs in the gym.
Karen Blondel, who has lived in Gowanus NYCHA housing for the past 40 years and is an environmental organizer for Fifth Avenue Committee, took the microphone to demand a real public meeting. She addressed the lack of commitment from the City to '"fix environmentally unsafe conditions in local public housing."  
In support, NYCHA residents chanted:
"The Gowanus Plan is incomplete-City Hall take a seat!"
"Before you rezone-fix our homes!"
"Scope until our demands are in scope! No Scope until we're in scope!"

Other stakeholders demanded to know how the City planned to address the neighborhood's failing infrastructure,  especially sewers,  schools and public transportation once the neighborhood was up-zoned. "What happened to the inclusion of an Eco District in the rezoning plan?,"  several people asked.

Winston Von Engel and Jonathan Keller of NYC's Department of City Planning eventually tried to placate the audience by promising a proper community meeting at Community Board 6's Landmark/Land Use Committee meeting on February 28th in PS32's auditorium.

Councilman Brad Lander arrived late, so missed most of the initial fireworks,  He tried to diffuse the situation by playing Mr. Nice Guy and by reiterating that the rezoning plan  was unlikely to please everyone.

As for Councilman Stephen Levin, whose district includes all Gowanus NYCHA residents, he did not show up at all.

It was an interesting evening to say the least.
Kindergartener and mini-citizen reporter Charlie of Citizen Squirrel
Linda Mariano of FROGG and Gowanus Landmarking Coalition
Gowanus' very own Jane Jacobs
Gowanus Dredgers brought canoes to demand rezoning plan include docks and boat launches

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Prior To Neighborhood Rezoning, Gowanus Landmarking Coalition Seeks City Landmark Designation For Key Historical, Architectural, And Cultural Sites In Gowanus

Gowanus 2007
Gowanus 2008
Gowanus 2007
Gowanus 2007

As mentioned previously, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) has just released the long awaited Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal.  Many in the community are trying to understand and to envision what Gowanus will look like in the future, if the proposed rezoning, which calls for  22 to 30-story buildings, does go through as proposed.  Others are looking to the past, cognizant of the fact that much of the neighborhood's history could easily be erased forever as a result of the rezoning.

The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition was formed in the summer of 2017 to seek New York City landmark designation for key historical, architectural, and cultural sites in Gowanus prior to the neighborhood rezoning.
The coalition is made up of Gowanus residents, local businesses,  and the following organizations. Park Slope Civic CouncilThe Old Stone HouseHistoric Districts CouncilFriends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG).
It's mission is "to ensure that Gowanus retains an authentic sense of place - and remains capable of telling its own many-layered story."

The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition has just issued the press release below. Please support its mission and sign the petition to protect Gowanus' built environment prior to the City Planning Commission's rezoning.

Gowanus Landmarking Coalition Launches Website Ahead of Rezoning

GOWANUS - The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition unveiled its new website today in advance of tonight’s public meeting regarding the city’s Gowanus rezoning plan.
The website can be found at: www.gowanuslandmarks.org

The new site highlights the Coalition’s priority list of fifteen sites and small districts in Gowanus that warrant official designation by the City of New York. 

Having waited more than two years for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to conclude its study of potential Gowanus landmarks for designation, the Coalition continues to press public officials to designate and protect critical sites before rezoning arrives in the neighborhood.

“We’ve seen this before in recent city-led neighborhood rezonings,” said Coalition member and Gowanus resident Brad Vogel, “Landmarking has been left as something of an afterthought in places like East Harlem, Inwood, and East New York when it needs to happen prior to the major changes that come with city-led rezonings. We hope the city will take a better course here in Gowanus.”

Some groups in the Coalition have been advocating for landmark designation in Gowanus for more than a decade. And during that time, several quintessentially Gowanus sites, like the Burns Brothers Coal Pockets, have been lost to demolition.

“We invite community members to sign our petition found at the new Coalition website,” said Kelly Carroll of the Historic Districts Council. “Gowanus should not be left with a paltry 3 or 4 designated landmarks when the rezoning dust settles. Telling the full story of this neighborhood’s industrial and maritime heritage requires more than a dozen sites. Our Coalition priority list is a good start.”

The Coalition, comprised of city-wide, neighborhood, and historical groups, continues to meet with elected officials and city agencies to advocate for landmark designation.

“Historic interpretation signage in the neighborhood as proposed by the city sounds nice. But first we need to save the buildings that still exist and give Gowanus a real sense of place,” said Linda Mariano of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. “We ask our public officials to do right by Gowanus and landmark the important buildings shown on our website as soon as possible.”

Here is a list of sites identified by the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition as landmark worthy.

Gowanus Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station, 209 Douglass Street
ASPCA Memorial Building, 238 Butler Street
Gowanus Station, 234 Butler Street
BRT Powerhouse, 322 Third Avenue
National Packing Box Factory, 280 Nevins Street
T.H. Roulston Inc., 70-124 9th Street
American Can Factory, 232 3rd Street
“The Green Building”, 460 Union Street
Ice House & Brewing Complex, 401-421 Bond Street
Union Street Bridge Control Tower
R.J. Dun & Company, 237-257 Butler Street
Norge Sailmakers Building, 170 Second Avenue
Bowne Grain Storage, 398 Smith Street
2nd Street Historic District (between Bond & Hoyt Streets)
Head of Canal District

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Reader Comment Of The Day: Getting Information Out

It's time to bring back PMFA's Comment Of The Day.
Yesterday's post Developers Get Their Way, the Community Not So Much: Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal Proves That Community Planning Sessions Were All A Sham  received some interesting comments, including this one:

"Developers aren't anxious to build along the Gowanus because it is such a desirable neighborhood -- they want to because they are brownfields, and thus not only with they get a huge payout from the state, far and away above the cost of remediating, which will cover a large portion of building. Then they don't have to pay taxes or 10 years.

However, the brownfield rules already require that 5% of housing be affordable. So the expansion here to allow for 20% affordable is larger than it should be.

How do we get this info out there? That we, the taxpayers, are paying for these buildings, seeing our property taxes rise, while developers go without paying any taxes at all for 10 years???"

Please take part in this important neighborhood discussion by leaving your own comment.
You can also join the conversation on PMFA's Facebook page here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Developers Get Their Way, the Community Not So Much: Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal Proves That Community Planning Sessions Were All A Sham

You may have heard already that the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released the long awaited Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal today. Members of the community, who thought that the lengthy Community Listening Sessions of the past few years by Councilman Brad Lander and DCP would result in a contextual, sustainable, sensible, resilient plan, may feel betrayed by this proposal.  It seems to cater to developers, not the community.

According to Crain's New York, the freshly released Draft Zoning Plan calls for the rezoning of 80 blocks in Gowanus, and "would allow buildings as tall as 22 stories along certain portions near the canal—with one block in particular topping out at 30 stories."

In an email today, Councilman Brad Lander writes:
"I believe this proposal is a strong next step toward the sustainable, inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood that the community has been envisioning for many years."
He added:
"I know that not everyone is excited about the idea of new residential and commercial development at heights taller than the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods. But I genuinely believe we are on the way to getting the balance right."

Balance?  Planning for 22 to 30 story buildings in an area that is prone to flooding is insanity.  Bringing thousands more residents to a neighborhood without adequate infrastructure like schools, subways and sewer system, is foolhardy. 
Moving a rezoning along while the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal has not yet been environmentally remediated and the City has not yet implemented a solution to capture raw sewage flowing into this long neglected waterway, is just criminal.

The Department of City Planning will host a public meeting next week.  Please make every effort to attend and bring your questions and comments.  This re-zoning plan will have major implications for Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and of course, Gowanus.

"Next Steps in Planning for Gowanus"
Wednesday, February 6
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
P.S. 32
317 Hoyt St. at Union Street.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Provence En Boîte May Be Bidding 'Adieu' on Smith Street

For more than a decade, restaurateurs Leslie and Jean-Jacques Bernat have served up Southern French cuisine at their bistro  Provence en Boite. Located at 263 Smith Street at the corner of DeGraw Street, the cheerful eatery with its outdoor seating area is a popular spot amongst locals for brunch, to watch a soccer game, especially during the World Championship, or as a hangout during Smith Street's annual Bastille Day celebration.
Besides the usual bistro fare  Jean-Jacques bakes fresh croissants, pains au chocolat, tartes and assorted other patisseries, as well as galettes for the Three Kings Day celebration in January.

However, recently, diners have left some critical reviews on Yelp regarding the food, service and increasing prices. Then came news last week from a local resident that the place has been closed for the past few days and that:
"Provence en Boîte has been shuttered for “operating without a license “. The notice sticker is on the inner door."

We walked by to check it out this past Saturday and the restaurant was closed during brunch hour. We returned this morning and found that the place is still closed, though its web site states that it should be open on a Monday.
The sign regarding the liquor license has been removed, but a quick search on the the New York State Liquor Authority's web site indicates that it had been inactive for a while.

Strangely, we noticed that a new entity named "Catrinas on Smith" was scheduled to make a presentation in front of CB6's Permits and Licenses Committee back in October 2018 for a new on-premise liquor license, but the representatives never showed up that night.
Agenda for Cpmmunity Board 6's Permits and License Committee in October 2018

It would not be the first time that Provence en Boite is shut by authorities. Back in 2009, the eatery was  closed for a few days by the the Department Of Consumer Affairs because of a problem with their outdoor seating area.

No word yet if the restaurant will reopen, if this is the end for Provence en Boite, or if a new business named Catrinas will be opening in that spot.

Do you have any thought or further information?

Reader Gordon just sent us a photo of the notice that was taped on the restaurant's window last week.
It appears to be from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

CSO Tank Vs CSO Tunnel: Is DEP's New Alternative Yet Another Way To Delay A Solution To Untreated Sewage Flowing Into The Gowanus Canal?

Gowanus Canal CAG member Brad Vogel facilitating the meeting
Kevin Clarke, NYC DEP project manager giving presentation

Reflections on DEP's Presentation to the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group
on January 22, 2019

Dear Neighbors,
You may remember that as part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup, the Environmental Protection Agency has named the City Of New York the second largest Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) for discharging "hazardous substance-contaminated untreated sewage" into the canal.

For decades, the City of New York has diverted Combined Sewer Overflow (raw sewage mixed with rainwater) into our canal during rain events, when our sewage treatment facility is overburdened.

As part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Record of Decision signed in September 2013, a legally binding blueprint for the environmental clean-up of the canal, EPA has mandated that New York City construct an 8-million gallon tank and a 4-million gallon tank to address CSOs from outfalls RH-034 at the head of the canal and OH-007 at the Salt Lot in the middle of the canal, near Whole Foods.
These two tanks are a control measure meant to significantly reduce overall contaminated solid discharges to the waterway during heavy rain events and will protect the canal from being recontaminated after the Superfund clean-up.

EPA Region 2 suggested placing the 8-million gallon tank underneath the Double D pool at Thomas Greene Park near Nevins Street. The Agency reasoned that the pool needs to be removed anyway because it sits on the former Fulton Municipal Manufactured Gas Plant ,which needs remediation. Also, the parkland is owned by the City, which would save the acquisition cost.

Though this all sounded logical and very necessary to the Gowanus residents, the City came up with ways to shirk its responsibility, which it has successfully done since construction of this man -made canal began in 1849.

First, the NYC Department Of Environmental Protection (DEP) argued that a 5 million gallon at RH-034 and 2 million gallon tanks at OH-007 would be enough to meet the City's obligations.
When the EPA flatly said no, the City tried to complicate the project in the hope to delaying it. In the process, they also made it mind-blowingly expensive. ($1.2 billion so far)

First,  the City lobbied to place the 8-million gallon tank on two privately-owned parcels at 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street that needed to be seized by eminent domain. (A third seized parcel will be used for staging during construction.)
The City also insisted on constructing an elaborate head-house for odor mitigation equipment and various screens,.

The City scored a victory of sorts, when, in June 2016, then-EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck was willing to make concessions to the City by signing a settlement agreement allowing the siting of the 8-million gallon tank at  the head-of-the- canal site.
The agreement also:
- allowed the City to take land by eminent domain
-costs local residents more money in taxes and water rates.
-egregiously allows the City to re-contaminate  the canal with CSO for 2-7 years after the EPA's dredging and capping of the canal, because the tank will be completed after the Superfund clean-up.

Just as it seemed that New York City was finally moving forward, it threw another wrench in the works.  It proposed a CSO TUNNEL vs. the CSO TANKS.

In November 2018 at its monthly meeting, the Gowanus Community Advisory Group
(CAG) was shocked to hear DEP's bombshell announcement that the agency was advancing an alternate proposal for a Combined Sewer Overflow storage tunnel under the Canal, instead of the two CSO tanks that DEP has been advancing.

This past Tuesday, DEP's Kevin Clarke gave the CAG a presentation on the agency's newly proposed tunnel alternative, which will be 28-31 feet in diameter, 1/2 mile long, running from outfall RH-34 at the head of the canal to outfall OH-007 at the Salt Lot, following the alignment of the canal.  The soft ground tunnel will be 100 feet below the canal and is expected to have a 100 year life expectancy.

Clarke admitted that all work on the tunnel so far "has been conceptual" and that "the tank program" is "still moving ahead." He did tout several tunnel benefits:
-increased storage capacity
-provide equivalent solids reduction
-requires less disruption to the neighborhood during construction
-requires a comparable investment:$1.28 billion
-and provides a scalable system, allowing for future extensions to improve neighborhood flood resilience, accommodate future development and population  growth.

DEP expects the tunnel to be completed by 2030, which according to Clarke "is a little bit longer time frame" than the tanks.

Unfortunately, the EPA was not at Tuesday's meeting because of the government shut-down, so there was no fact checking by the Federal Government.
Ultimately, it is EPA that will evaluate whether  the CSO tunnel alternative is acceptable.

Personally, I have listened to DEP presentations in regards to the CSO issue for more than ten years.
These are my take aways and thoughts after Tuesday's presentation:
- Let us never forget that New York City would never have addressed this grave environmental issue if it had not been compelled to do so by the EPA as part of the Superfund designation.
-To this day, the City's efforts to reduce raw sewage flowing into our canal has cost over 100 million and has so far only resulted in acquiring two parcels of real estate at the head of the canal by eminent domain.
-DEP seems to be in no hurry to build either tank or tunnel.  Why would it take 11 or more years to construct either one? 
-If DEP really wanted to capture more CSOs, why not make the two tanks larger to match the tunnel's 16 million gallon capacity?
-The City's argument that the CSO tunnel provides a more scalable system because it can be made longer may be compelling, but anyone in the community who believes that the City will come back any time soon to add additional sections may be too optimistic.
In all these years, we have only seen pretty slides and heard much empty talk from New York City. That is not about to change.

And on a rainy day like today, raw sewage still makes its way into our canal.
If you have forgotten what a CSO event in the Gowanus Canal looks like, here is a reminder.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Picture Of The Day: Winter Dreariness

January dreariness has finally settled over Brooklyn. 
Looking forward to spring, and more vibrant colors around the neighborhood.

EPA Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group To Meet This Tuesday (Sans EPA Due To Shutdown)

The Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group will host its regularly scheduled meeting regarding the Canal's Superfund clean-up this Tuesday, January 22, 6:30 pm at Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street, Brooklyn .
The Environmental Protection Agency, whoever, will sadly be absent from the meeting, due to the federal government shutdown.
The meeting will be self-facilitated by members of the CAG, if the federal government shutdown is not resolved by tomorrow, which is very likely.

On the agenda will be a presentation by NYC Department of Environmental Protection on the agency's surprising alternate proposal for a 16-17 million gallon Combined Sewer Overflow storage tunnel under the Canal, instead of the two CSO tanks that DEP has been advancing.
You may remember that DEP dropped the bombshell announcement at the CAG's last general meeting in November 2018. 

This is bound to be an interesting meeting for anyone living in or near Gowanus, so I urge everyone to attend. This is our opportunity to ask DEP how much more time a tunnel will take, and how much more it will cost.  More importantly, let us find out if this is yet another way for DEP to delay the City's part of the Superfund clean-up.

Gowanus, Where Cars Are Parked On Sidewalks

Today, we make way for Gowanus resident  J. Moccasin Walker here on PMFA. Walker  (his nom de plume) contacted us a few weeks ago to make us aware of a problem that has plagued his neighborhood for some time: drivers parking their cars on the sidewalk, thereby blocking the way for pedestrians.
After counting 24 cars and trucks parked on the sidewalk at the same time on Union Street between Nevins and 4th Avenue, he decided to reach out to the community to document and make aware of this issue.

What’s with all the cars parked on the sidewalk?
By J. Moccasin Walker ***

It seems like we have an epidemic of drivers parking cars on the sidewalks in Gowanus. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not parked cars. They are for parents with strollers, folks in wheelchairs and little kids on scooters. Sidewalks are not for motor vehicles.

While there are a few technical exceptions, drivers are not allowed to park, stop or stand on any sidewalk in New York City.

Parking on sidewalks reduces pedestrian space. It can divert people into the street to pass. We need to make the city more pedestrian friendly, not less. It is true that growth has increased competing uses and pressures. More traffic of every kind is using the same real estate. Local businesses, long used to open loading space, are being squeezed. Workers who drive to jobs in manufacturing zones are competing with new residents for street parking. Crews working on new buildings or upgrading sewers and utilities are added to the mix, both with work vehicles and with the cars they commute in. Ultimately, new solutions may be needed that go beyond this or any neighborhood, but in the meantime, things have gotten out of hand. There were twenty-four vehicles parked on the sidewalks of Union Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues one day last fall!

One of these days a mom with young kids will step out into the street to pass a parked car. A big truck will be speeding by and suddenly there’ll be a tragedy. Let’s not wait for that, let’s sort this out now. Why doesn’t the NYPD, or Councilmember Levin or Lander address the problem before the next accident?

People need to work and live, but the sidewalks are not free square footage for every business to expand onto or for any driver to park on. It’s bad enough we have dysfunction, narcissism and lawlessness in the White House. The good people of Brooklyn should maintain a more civil society and respect our neighbors and our shared public space.

*** J. Moccasin Walker hopes to be an occasional contributor to Pardon Me For Asking. A driver, a bicyclist and a pedestrian, he is an ever more cantankerous idealist. If he had a blog it might be called "Don’t Get Me Started."

This isn’t in Gowanus, but it shows the problem perfectly. You can see the crosswalk in the foreground and cars parked on sidewalk. The pedestrian has been forced into the street, which is inconvenient, dangerous and just plain wrong. This was taken last week on 4th Avenue by Industry City.

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These next two shots are on the east side of Nevins, opposite the Dand D pool and park.
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This is Sackett just west of 3rd Avenue, looking west.
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This is Sackett just west of 3rd Avenue again, looking the other way.

This shot is on the east side of 4th Avenue, looking north towards Douglass Street
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This is the sidewalk by the gas station at Union Street and 4th Avenue
Here is more of the same at the gas station on Union and 4th.
Here is another shot of that gas station at night.If the cars belong to gas station employees, 
they have all sorts of room in back to park a car or two.
This is Union Street west of 3rd Avenue.
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Here’s Union east of 3rd Avenue
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This is the north side of Union between 3rd and 4th.
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This is the small garden on 4th Ave, just north of Union. This car had a Parks Department parking permit but it was for Queens. And there was room at the curb!
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These are more shots back near the D and D pool, looking west towards Nevins.
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Here is the same corner, by the D and D pool block, looking northeast.
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The car wash on 4th Avenue and 1st Street has made the sidewalk a regular part of their shop. It is always soapy and slippery underfoot and nearly always blocked.
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This is mid-block on Sackett Street, looking east from Nevins.
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This is DeGraw Street just west of 3rd Avenue.
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PMFA would like to thank Walker for this contribution and for making us aware of this 'epidemic.'
Let us hear from you, dear Readers.  Are you noticing this issue in Gowanus as well?