Thursday, October 18, 2018

D.E.P. Presents Modifications To Its Gowanus Canal CSO Facility, But For More Than Half A Billion Dollars, Don't Expect The Taj Mahal

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Last night's meeting at the YMCA on Third Avenue
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Alicia West, DEP Director of Public Design Outreach
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Last night, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection came in front of Community Board 6 Parks and Recreation / Environmental Protection Committee to give a presentation on the proposed design for the Gowanus Canal Combined Sewer Overflow Facility at the head of the Gowanus Canal.
The changes to the design of both the 'head house' and the 1.6 acre open space were based on public comments gathered at public meetings in May 2018 and at a North Gowanus Community Visioning session in July.

Before we delve into some of the proposed changes to the design, let us provide some background on this issue:
You may remember that DEP is required by the US Environmental Protection Agency to build an 8-million gallon sewage retention tank at the head-end of the Gowanus Canal to reduce the volume of untreated wastewater entering the waterway as part of the Superfund clean-up.

DEP has taken the requirement for a simple tank to a whole new level by insisting that the C.S.O. tank be built on two privately owned parcels that the City is currently acquiring through eminent domain, rather than to follow EPA's suggestion to site the tank on publicly-owned parkland across the street. Along with the tank, DEP is insisting that it also needs a massive head house to hold debris capture screens, a de-gritter, odor control equipment, as well as an electric room, boiler and other mechanical spaces.   
DEP admitted last night that the final cost is expected to exceed $500 million dollars.

For more than half a billion dollars, the community could expect something resembling the Taj Mahal, no?  However,  the Selldorf Architects-designed building looks just like a big box, even if it will be clad in terra cotta Venetian style louvers.  As for the green space above the tank,   DLandStudios designed a pleasing passive-use space, yet it only really provides plantings, some open areas, and benches.

So what changes were made to the project?  The building's footprint has apparently been slightly reduced, it has been pulled back from the lot line at Nevins Street, and its color palette has been softened.

To some residents, the modified design was a great improvement. To others, many of the suggestions or 'asks' from the community were ignored.  The facility, for example, does not include an indoor educational center. There are no provisions for restrooms. There are no active play areas for children, water access for boaters, or covered areas for a makers market.

Most disturbing, many in the Gowanus Community had passionately voiced their desire to preserve the 100-year old former Gowanus Station building at 234 Butler Street and had asked DEP for over a year to incorporate this historic structure into their plan.
Instead, the new facility design calls for the demolition of the building. Only its parapet and a few other elements will be saved and incorporated into a brick wall on Butler Street, around the corner from its current location. 

D.E.P. will be presenting the design to the Public Design Commission in mid-November.
It may be a tad premature.  To date, DEP  has only submitted 30% of the CSO facility's design to EPA. The Federal Agency will have to give final approval of the mechanics and underground tank.

So, while DEP shows us pretty drawings and samples of glazed terra cotta tiles, perhaps it is more important for the agency to prove to us and to the EPA, that their costly facility will actually keep raw sewage out of the canal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Moment In Time: Inflating The Reaper

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"Join or Die"
Installation of an inflatable grim reaper in front of Body Elite earlier today.

Neighbors, Let's Talk About All The Trash In Carroll Gardens


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Neighbors, have you noticed how absolutely filthy our neighborhood has become? Everywhere one looks, there is litter on the sidewalk and in the streets. The worst are Smith and Court Street, where the public garbage cans are overflowing with refuse on a regular basis. Why is that?

When I first moved into Carroll Gardens in 1985, it was a working class Italian neighborhood. Sure there was garbage littering the streets, but many residents regularly swept in front of their houses and kept an eye on neighbors who did not.  It certainly was a lot cleaner than it is now.

These days, brownstones in Carroll Gardens sell for millions, but it sure does not look like a million dollar neighborhood around here.  Just look at the photos above, which we took in the past few days.

Our streets are a lot busier than they were just a decade ago. There are definitively more residents living here now as several tall developments have been constructed here.  Also, our local eateries attract people from other neighborhoods and there is a whole lot more foot traffic, especially on the week-ends.  

All this should prompt our local government to make sure that we get the proper trash pick-up.  Obviously, that has not been the case judging by how full the public trashcans are.  

So what can we do about this?
-Obviously,  produce less trash ourselves and pick up after ourselves.  We also are responsible for sweeping the sidewalks in front of our own houses.

-Make sure people know that the public trashcans are not for residential trash. (Too many times, local residents just dump their trash bags and broken pieces of furniture at the corner.

-Talk to the business owners on Court and Smith Streets to ask that they join in the effort.  
It is their responsibility to keep the sidewalk and curb of their establishment clean. 

-Call 311 and make a complaint to the Sanitation Department.

-Contact Community Board 6 at  718 643-3027 or Info@BrooklynCB6.org to ask for help in addressing this problem

-Make a call to Councilman Brad Lander's office at 718-499-1090.
Councilman Lander, who is now in his third term (thanks to the 2008  Council vote granting then-Mayor Bloomberg and City officials an exemption to the two-term limit) should be advocating for proper services that better reflect our current community need.
Frankly, in the past few months, we have received more emails from his office regarding the upcoming national election than anything concerning his constituents' more local needs. Until he is elected into higher office, if he chooses to seek it, his primary concern should be his district, not Washington.

More development is on the horizon if the proposed Gowanus Rezoning, backed by Councilman Lander, goes through. The rezoning from manufacturing to residential will bring thousands more to the neighborhood. How will we cope if we are not getting the simple services like proper trash pick up we need now?

We need to get a handle on this situation.  Carroll Park is overrun with rats, people have reported seeing rats in their front yards, our children walk past overflowing, smelly garbage on their way to and from school.  Is this really happening in our 'beautiful brownstone neighborhood?

We would love to hear what you have to say and encourage you to help come up with a solution.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Picture Of The Day: A Canal By Any Other Name

Gray skies, glass towers and the picturesque and iconic Gowanus Canal.
How longe before this landscape changes forever?

Another Piece Of Carroll Gardens History Lost As Little Coal Shop On Hoyt Street Gets Demolished

The little Coal Shop building at 393 Hoyt Street before (photo courtesy of Google Maps)
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Yet another sad demolition is currently taking place in Carroll Gardens, and this one really stings.
The sweet two story brick building at 393 Hoyt Street was once a former coal shop owned by a Mr. D'Agostino, who supplied the neighborhood at a time when coal was still used as a source of heating in many surrounding brownstones.

In recent years, the storefront was occupied by 'Brooklyn Workshop Gallery', home of the Workshop Gallery Artists Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Martine Bisagni and Amani Ansari.
The community atelier focused on cultural events and neighborhood outreach through lectures, art shows, concerts and free classes. It also hosted popular "Free Art Saturdays" for children and their families.

Bisagni and Ansari fell in love with the sun-drenched space the moment she saw it. Over time, they renovated it with repurposed materials that were found or donated. In time, the small back yard was turned into a charming green oasis, where children and adults could explore and create.
To pay tribute to the buildings history, Bisagni and Ansari always kept a few black coal lumps in the window.
In other words, the little house was well loved and its past respected.

In January 2018, 393 Hoyt Street sold $1,2 million according to Street Easy,  Shortly afterwards, Brooklyn Workshop Gallery vacated the 'little coal shop'.
By the summer,  demolition permits had been filed.  In the last month, that work has started, though a stop work order has temporarily halted it.
No word yet on what will be built in its place, but the empty lot may be included in any future development

It is so sad to walk by, as a small section of the little coal house was still standing as we walked past on Sunday.
What do you say, dear Reader?

A look back in time at the interior of 393 Hoyt Street when it was home to the gallery:


Friday, October 12, 2018

The Sad Transformation Of One Smith Street Block In Boerum Hill As Yet Another Original Building Is Demolished

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Smith Street, looking towards Atlantic Avenue in April 2018
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Original building at 157 Smith Street in April 2018, before demolition
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Before demolition
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157 Smith Street, now all gone. 
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The empty lot at 157 Smith Street
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Just a small reminder of the original structure.
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For decades, much of Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill has remained unchanged. The charming commercial stretch was lined with three to four story row houses, with just a few taller five to six story buildings spread along the blocks closer to Atlantic Avenue.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the north end of Smith Street change at a rapid pace, as some of the original houses are being demolished to make way for taller glass structures which don't even try to fit into the existing streetscape.

Part of the problem has to do with New York City's 2011 contextual rezoning of Boerum Hill, which raised the allowable Floor Area Ratio on Smith Street from Warren Street to Atlantic Avenue to R6A, which allows a building to rise to 70 feet.
(In contrast, the southern end of Smith Street was zoned R6B with a 50 feet height limit as part of the Carroll Gardens Contextual rezoning, approved in 2009.)

The temptation to build up to the allowable height limit can be perfectly illustrated on the block between Wycoff and Bergen Streets.  First, a three story original wood-clad building at number 159 Smith Street was demolished to make way for a much taller modern steel-clad apartment building with commercial space that remains unoccupied to this day.

Recently, the original structure next door at number 157 Smith Street was totally demolished, though the building permit issued was for a "proposed vertical and horizontal extension to existing building," only including "a partial demolition of existing structure."
What will replace it, according to a rendering, looks equally out of place as the new building at # 159.

According to Zillow, 157 Smith Street changed hands in 2016 for $3,750,000. That is a lot of money and one can hardly blame a new owner for wanting to maximize every inch of floor-area allowed by zoning. However, one does have to scratch one's head as to why someone buys a beautiful old building in a charming old neighborhood just to turn it into a stark modern glass structure.

At this rate,  the southern end of Smith Street will lose much of its flair.
What do you think, dear Reader?

As a reminder, this is what the two buildings at 157 and 159, together with their identical neighbor at #161 looked like in 2014. To date, 161 remains unchanged. For how long.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Yet Another Stop Work Order For 232-240 Smith Street After Construction Work Undermines Building Next Door

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Construction site at 232-240 Smith Street at Douglass Street
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FDNY at construction site this past Friday, October 5th
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The latest S.W.O. issued on 10/05/2018
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Damage to adjacent building at 57 Douglass Street
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New scaffolding on 57 Douglass Street
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No construction site in Carroll Gardens has been more problematic than the one at 232-240 Smith Street at the corner of Douglass Street. Not only has the construction fence around the site taken up the sidewalk for years, but the excavation work has caused quite a lot of problems, which earned it an astonishing number of Stop Work Orders.

And the problems continue to pile up.
Yet another full Stop Work Order was issued by the NYC Department of Buildings after the adjacent property at 57 Douglass Street was compromised.
This past Friday, the NYC Fire Department responded to a 311 call reporting that the small building was shaking and that its fa├žade had developed cracks. The Fire Department stayed on site until Building Department inspectors were able to assess the situation.
By evening,  a scaffolding had been erected in front of 57 Douglass and the S,W.O. issued to the construction site for "failure to protect the adjoining property."

Here is some background on the 232-240 Smith Street site:
The long saga of this construction site started about 12 years ago with the demolition of several one story buildings that housed a few stores and a then-popular Argentinian restaurant named Sur, which helped spark Smith Street's revival. During a decade, nothing happened on the lot except for violations handed out by the NYC Department Of Buildings for 'failure to maintain construction fence."

Finally, in 2015, Commercial Observer reported that "Madison Realty Capital provided Brooklyn-based Second Development Services with a short-term $9 million loan for the acquisition and development of 232 Smith Street." Louis Greco of SDS told the Observer that he is planning a 15,000-square-foot retail building on the site.

D.o.B. permits were filed by OCV Architects shortly afterwards and by the fall of 2016 work finally began and... stopped. Within weeks, the D.o.B. issued a stop work order for "failure to notify DOB within 24-48 hours of the start of excavation" and for 'failure to safeguard all persons and property."
In addition, the site regularly fills up with water and there have been problems with the sewer lines.

To this date, 232-240 Smith Street has amassed an impressive 102 complaints, 48 D.O.B. violations and 73 Environmental Control Board (ECB) violations. 

It had been announced to the community that a Crunch Fitness would be the tenant in this new building. At the rate construction is going, it will be a while before the gym opens.