Tuesday, November 18, 2008

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden Meets The Neighborhood

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden

Toll Brothers' Vice President Von Spreckelsen
Long time Carroll Gardener Diane Buxbaum
expressing her concerns
Ludger K. Balan of The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy

In front of a crowded auditorium, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden introduced her agency's proposed plan for the Gowanus Canal area. But before starting with the presentation, she announced that due to Councilman Bill deBlasio's efforts, City Planning has fast tracked the re-zoning of the Carroll Gardens' neighborhood. Staff was reassigned to make this possible and "we had to change our priorities" said Ms. Burden.

That's great news! I won't deny that. But deep down, I couldn't get that nagging feeling out of my mind that this very well placed announcement was a way of softening up those neighborhood residents who are critical of development along the canal before the city undertakes a major environmental clean-up. Ms. Burden stated that she had come last night to listen to what residents had to say. "This project needs your absolute commitment. Is this what you as a community want? " If she wanted to have consensus amongst the people sitting in the audience, I am not sure she got it.

As with all meetings concerning the re-zoning, there are sharp dividing lines between those who believe that bringing housing developments to the shores of the Gowanus will provide the necessary political pressure to have the city clean the highly toxic land and water. And then there are those residents, including many who have poured over the extensive environmental reports done by D.E.P. and The Army Corp Of Engineers, who believe that building housing on a brownfield is a recipe for disaster. I tend to agree with the latter. As someone in the audience said, trusting developers to clean up their own sites "is like wall street self-regulating."

There are some very real and scary public health issues that need to be addressed in a meaningful way before condos should be erected. As Ludger K. Balan of The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy stated, there are 50 known carcinogenic pollutants in the Gowanus. None of these facts, he said, are reflected or addressed in the re-zoning report. Nor was the small problem with the broken sewer overflow system along Bond Street. As everyone who lives close by knows, after a particularly heavy rain, raw sewage flows into the canal.

Many times during the evening, the conversation turned to the Toll Brothers' two block spot re-zoning ahead of the proposed City Planning rezoning. (Our community Board 6 just voted for it.) Tolls' New York Vice-President Von Spreckelsen was sitting in the audience. Many felt that the developer's condo project was way too tall at 12 stories and pleaded with Ms. Burden to restrict the height along the canal to 8 stories.

I wonder what Ms. Burden took away from last night's meeting. Lets hope that she and her staff will take the concerns of residents into account. But somehow, I always feel as though the backroom deals have already been made.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If housing is built along the canal without safe and substantial remediation or flood mitigation these projects will create many lucrative jobs. For lawyers. I am pretty sure that's not the type of jobs some CB6 mean when they say these projects will spur job creation.