Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Developer Alloy Suggests Idea That May Solve Delay Issue And Park Loss Associated With Siting Of Combined Sewer Overflow Tank In Gowanus

At last night's Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Committee meeting
Jared Della Valle, President of Alloy
Councilmember Steve Levin
Kevin Jeffreys, Brooklyn Parks Commissioner
Eric Landau, DEP Associate Commissioner
Christopher Swain Gowanus Swim
Looking at 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street from the Gowanus Canal Side
The Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now
The park, surrounded by industry, as seen from 4th Avenue 
looking towards the Gowanus Canal in the 1930s.
Alloy Presentation

The discussion of where New York City should be siting the larger of two Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) retention tanks that the US Environmental Protection Agency has ordered New York City Department Of Environmental Protection  (DEP) to construct in Gowanus to capture raw sewage currently being discharged into the canal  has just become a whole lot more interesting.

You may remember that EPA's Region 2, responsible for overseeing the Gowanus Superfund clean-up,  has suggested placing a 8-million gallon tank underneath the Double D pool at Thomas Greene Park. The Federal agency reasoned that  the site is already owned by the City, which would save the cost of acquiring land. In addition, the park sits on top of the former Brooklyn Union Gas Fulton  Municipal Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) which was in operation at this location from 1879 to the early 1930s. Since coal tar is currently oozing under the pool area and flows towards the Gowanus Canal, National Grid, the party responsible for the environmental clean-up, has been asked by EPA to dig up the pool so that the source contamination can be removed. By working in tandem with National Grid, DEP would save money and time. 

The NYC DEP, on the other hand, would prefer to site the 8-million gallon tank on privately owned land along the canal, adjacent to the park.  The sites in question are 234 Butler  Street and  242 Nevins Street.  In addition, the City wants to acquire 270 Nevins Street, which is currently occupied by Eastern Effects Studios, as a staging area.  The City is willing to make use of Eminent Domain to acquire the three  properties if the private owners are unwilling to sell. The necessary legal proceedings involved in making this happen will take time and millions of dollars.

The City wants to place the tank and a 50 feet high head house for the mechanical elements needed for the tank at 234 Butler and  242 Nevins partly because of the proximity to the rest of its Gowanus infrastructure at the head of the canal, and partly to "protect Thomas Greene Park" since the nearby community is underserved when it comes to open space and recreational facilities.

The problem with the City's eminent domain plan is that it will delay the environmental clean up of the Gowanus Canal by about 3 to 5 years, which EPA is very concerned about.

Intriguingly enough,  Alloy, a real estate development firm based in Dumbo, has proposed an alternative solution that may reduce or eliminate the clean-up  delay as well as offset the loss of parkland.

At last night's EPA Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group meeting,  Alloy told the community that it had recently signed a binding agreement on a 99 year lease for 234 Butler Street and has been in talks with the owners of 242 Nevins Street,
Alloy is proposing to build an as-of-right commercial development with a 2.0 Floor Area Ratio (FAR)   that will provide much needed creative office space in Gowanus.  Distributing the allowable square footage into two four-story buildings instead of one large two-story structure  would allow Alloy and  the owners of the sites to donate a sizable piece of land to the City. 
According to Jared Della Valle, Alloy's president,  the donation would create additional permanent park land that would exceed the land lost to the head house in the park, if it were placed there.
It would also preserve the properties' tax base and create jobs in the area.
"We believe that our proposal could save the unnecessary time of pursuing eminent domain"Della Valle explained to the Community Advisory Group. "It would also save the City up to a hundred million dollars."

What do Alloy and the owners get out of it?  "No eminent domain. It's that simple," Della Valle said. 
To those who may think that the offer of a land donation to the city is too good to be true, he points out that his firm is confident that there is enough margin to make their project viable even with giving away land.  He believes that Alloy can add some new perspective and help create a meaningful dialog between the parties. "We are offering a resource in this game," Della Valle concluded.

One could imagine that NYC DEP would jump at this chance, but no.  Eric Landau, DEP's Associate Commissioner and Kevin Jeffreys, Brooklyn Parks Commissioner, also attended last night's CAG meeting.  During their presentation to the community, they seemed eager to point out that the'City's recommendation remains unchanged and that it is still pursuing eminent domain.
"It is a very intriguing idea", Jeffreys said about Alloy's proposal, " but it does not eliminate all of the City's concerns. We want to make sure that we do not reduce the current footprint of Thomas Greene Park."  

According to Jeffreys, a head house, if it were built in Thomas Greene Park,  would take up about 29,000 to 30,000 square feet of the total 110,000 s.f. park area. "If you place it in Thomas Green Park, you interrupt the current park program" he stated.  He stated that the land donation proposed by Alloy would only give the City a "marginal increase in park land." (57,000 sf.)
The City's plan would add approximately 75,000 sq ft of open space.

Eric Landau mentioned that construction of tank and head house in the park would take about 8 to 10 years, during which the park would have to remain closed versus 4 years if constructed on the privately owned land.
(One may want to point out here that the EPA estimates that the entire Superfund clean-up will take 12 years. Why it would take the City 8 years to build a pretty straight forward tank is anyone's guess.)

The community reacted with skepticism towards the City, which has been named the # 2 responsible polluter of the Gowanus Canal by EPA.  The City, unfortunately, has been less than transparent in regards to Gowanus.  Landau addressed the deep distrust from the community. "I get that we have a historic credibility problem in the community."  He was quick to blame the previous administration.

Most members of the CAG seemed to be opposed  to any solution that would entail the taking of private land by eminent domain.  There was a genuine interest in the possibilities and solution put forth by Alloy.  One member of the CAG told the City representatives to "get back to the table with Alloy to make it work."  Another member felt that the city had a 'predetermined design' for the tank and for the head house and was failing to embrace more creative solutions that could take care of all concerns.

The sentiment against the City was best expressed by a Gowanus  NYCHA resident, who said: "Right now, the City does not have the money to support public housing.  These people [meaning Alloy] are coming in to give you land versus going to court to do eminent domain. I don't understand going to court because it is going to take money and time to do this." She felt that the money could be better spent on public housing.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that the City is willing to spend $100 + million dollars on the purchase of land and legal wrangling, when there seems to be a perfectly sensible alternative that would increase the overall existing parkland AND keep the Superfund clean-up on schedule.

Sticking to EPA's clean-up timetable is what most CAG members want most. After both the Alloy and DEP presentations, CAG members voted on a resolution urging the EPA, which will have final say regarding the location and design of the required sewage detention tanks, "to make their institutional decisions based on the best recommendations of their project design team and engineers."

You can access Alloy's complete presentation to the CAG here.


Agnes said...

Alloy's proposal seems to be a godsend to the community, a win (tank) win (open space) win (no eminent domain needed). The City has done nothing constructive but fight EPA cleanup in every way it can muster (remember when they said they could do it faster and cheaper??? ha ha). There is no transparency with whatever they want, or don't want, to do. I hope the EPA has the power to have some voice/power in this decision. They have done everything right by the community.
As for the pool - there is still a bunch of migrating toxic guck beneath it that is mandated to be cleaned up.

Katia said...

Well said, Agnes. Could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

The administrations change, but the City position on screwing the Gowanus Canal and the people who live and work around the canal remains the same. That alone tells you NYC should not have anything to do with siting where the tanks are placed. Our federal elected officials must make sure the the EPA is allowed make its decision based on facts and not based on the City's pressure to again say the hell with the Gowanus canal & its surroundings. The professional staff at EPA, have since the first day, worked to make this a better/cleaner community for all. The presentation last night, showed a way for nearly a total win for a cleaner Gownaus Canal and a livable neighborhood. It is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain why the DEP would make any effort bullying the landowners when the architects working with the landowner's clearly have a much better handle on designing something of value for the community.

Just what are the DEP objective anyway? First we heard it was about saving the pool. Next we heard it was about adding park space--something the Superfund law was not designed to do. And now with the proposal of additional park land from the developer, all we here from the DEP is that they need the eminent domaine land to manage temporary nuisance construction issues involving infrastructure passage through Nevins Street. The DEP's reasons for insisting on their "preferred" site seam to be ever changing.

SO can anyone explain why the DEP wants to do eminent domaine so bad? Surely there is something behind their position.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with 7:20 PM that there is something strange going on behind the scene. This is the first time I've heard that maintaining the existing footprint and potential disruption to the park "program" were of paramount importance.

Does Eric Landau think we are stupid? When de Blasio was our city councilman he aligned himself with Bloomberg to strongly oppose the superfund and he stills does. While the administration may have changed, the opposition to the superfund has not. It is also worth noting that one of the most vocal critics of the Alloy presentation was appointed to City Planning de Blasio. Is this not a conflict of interest? Maybe the CAG can address ithis concern.

I hope to see future presentations from Alloy about this project. Presebtations and discussions that will engage the COMMUNITY and not those with own political and organizational agendas. Welcome to the neighborhood Alloy.

Gowanee said...

Wow, what a meticulous presentation PMFA. Thank you. And thank you, Alloy, for reaching out to the community with this magnificent plan. I don't understand how they could enter into a 99 year agreement with a property owner who in turn is facing possible eminent domain for that property. The siting of the pool has been controversial, and, as 7:20 pointed out - the reasons keep shifting. I saw that coming from the Fifth Avenue Committee, also. They seem keen on eminent domain use of the properties across the pool. First it was that the pool needed to be saved (a pool that has to be dug up anyway). Then it was that the pool site wasn't big enough for the tank and head house. The EPA already has said no head house is needed. Some transparency coming from the Fifth Avenue Committee would be a breath of fresh air as they seem to have usurped power of Gowanus. They are the agency handling the "affordable housing" for the Lightstone Project. And they are the ones with the big development ideas for Public Place site for dense residential housing there. Isn't the exec. director of the Fifth Avenue Committee a commissioner on the City Planning Committee as well? Hmm...too much intrigue, and too sad for Gowanus' fate. I mean, really, Alloy makes so much sense that if their proposal doesn't solve everything amicably then this exposes the real rot.

Mrs. G said...

Greetings Katia,

Great reporting! I agree. Something here smells worse than the canal ever did!

Katia said...

Yes, Mrs. G, it sure does.

Anonymous said...

Eminent Domain = Land Grab
(but for whom, really?)
(or is it all about doing all possible to get in the way of/delaying EPA Superfund Cleanup?)
The City's and Fifth Avenue Committee's call for eminent domain is a ruse made more obvious should this Alloy alternative not go through

Anonymous said...

It is beyond belief that at the CAG meeting Councilman Steve Levin actually tried defending the unnecessary use of eminent domain, the seizing of private land from an unwilling owner, to maintaining the foot print of a "public park" on a separate block!

Since when have this relatively tiny and until now, unknown mostly cement public park come to assume the celebrity status of Central Park?

Since when is it okay to seize a man's own home across the street from said park to maintain this exact footprint?
Since when it it okay to bypass a much more sensible and much cheaper solution?

The rat is smelling thick and disgusting in this area.

Mr. Levin at the CAG meeting even YOU said the NYC plan "sucked"! So please DO SOMETHING about it! Talk is cheap.

Anonymous said...

It isn't about the park. I live two blocks from that park, and even though they spent a lot of money trying to make it more friendly looking, that park is depressing. And it does not get used as much as all that. Walk by it on any day, it is mostly unused. The renderings in this blog entry show here the toxic plume is - part of it is under the kid's pool. That is NOT GOOD. When land is poisoned, I believe that it just doesn't, cannot, be appealing. It is sick.That is the City's doing - paving over the poison and making it a park. That's the kind of City we live in. They have NO CREDIBILITY as far as trying to purport that they are looking after the community's best interest.

Unknown said...

I think this has politics written all over it. Local politicians answer to higher ones. If they follow the line, the get promoted. Someone should ask Cuomo or Schumer to comment!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on Dec 04 got it right--this park land is sick and not good.

That is why it is so upsetting that a few non-profits, who claimed to speak for the public, first pushed hard to keep that sick land, sick and filled with toxins. Because they claimed that there is environmental injustice in temporary removing the pool, all the while ignoring the real environmental injustice done by leaving the sick land in it's very sick toxic state.

There certainly appears to be some general prevision of basic ideas like environmental justice, in order to push a political position here.