Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Shameful! Without Public Announcement, Councilmember Lander 'Stepping Up' Gowanus Community Planning Process

Councilman Brad Lander at one of the Bridging Gowanus meetings, promising an 'inclusive and transparent process"
Bridging Gowanus Study Area

Unbeknown to most Gowanus residents and business owners, Councilman Brad Lander has recently
"stepped up a handful of meetings with local leaders in the Gowanus neighborhood to talk with them about next steps in the Bridging Gowanus community planning process," according to Catherine Zinnel, his Deputy Chief of Staff.
I found out about Bridging Gowanus' next steps by pure coincidence when someone whose organization had been invited by Lander's office mentioned a meeting on June 16th with the  representatives from the NYC Department of City Planning.  Obviously, the person thought he had committed a gaffe, since as soon as the words were spoken, he tried to back paddle and asked me repeatedly, in a strong tone, not to call Brad Lander's office to find out more.

Obviously, that person does not know me very well.
That same evening, I reached out to Ms. Zinnel to inquire about the meeting.  She acknowledged that Gowanus Canal Conservancy and Gowanus by Design 'among others' would be attending together with City Planning staff.  
The purpose for the gathering, according to Zinnel, was to discuss the next steps in the Bridging Gowanus community planning process and to talk about what progress "has been made over the past 18 months on some of the recommendations" made by the community during previous Bridging Gowanus meetings.
When asked to provide a complete list of attendees, Zinnel did not oblige, even after the meeting.***
( From another source, I learned that, along with NYC Department of City Planning, representatives of Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Gowanus Dredgers, Gowanus by Design, Build It Green, and the LES Ecology Center had received an invitation.)

Why is any of this important?
Of course, our Councilman can have meetings with whomever he chooses but it should be part of the public record so there is no suspicion about motives.  We are talking here about the overall rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood and the meetings associated with this re-zoning should be made public.

When Councilman Lander, together with several other local elected officials, launched Bridging Gowanus, a conversation "about a shared, sustainable vision for the Gowanus" in August 2013, he promised the community a "broad-based, inclusive, transparent and robust process," and vowed "to make sure that the communities around the Canal could take the lead in identifying the values that will shape future actions."

That first Gowanus Planning kick-off meeting held on August 5, 2013, didn't seem so inclusive to some. Though various stakeholders and representatives from local organizations had been invited, the meeting was not announced to the public, not posted in any way on the internet, not open to the general public and was closed to the press.

Councilman Brad Lander, when faced with the criticism in the press, wrote a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Paper stating that the meeting 'was not secret' and promised that Bridging Gowanus would
"be an effort to open up the planning process so that community residents, business people, and community groups can work together to shape a vision for the area around the Gowanus Canal rather than have decisions made by developers, the city, or by elected officials."

Subsequent Bridging Gowanus meetings held throughout 2014 were indeed publicized and well attended.  However,  the meetings were eerily controlled and orchestrated by Pratt Center for Community Development, which had been hired by Lander as consultant in charge of running the planning process.
Participants were divided amongst several tables where Pratt Center moderators seemed to lead the conversation according to a carefully scripted plan that led to a pre-determined outcome,  It all seemed designed to give the appearance of community input rather than to actually achieve it.

In November 2014, Pratt Center for Community Development presented the findings of the "Bridging Gowanus." These findings, the community was told, would help develop a neighborhood framework for "the infrastructure and land use plan needed for a safe, vibrant and sustainable Gowanus." The 'shared values' reflected in the framework are "going to hopefully guide New York City Planning and the De Blasio Administration when a re-zoning plan for Gowanus will be put forth."

Though groups and organizations like the Fifth Avenue Committee, Gowanus Alliance, Gowanus Dredgers, and Wyckoff Gardens Tenants Association expressed their approval of the framework, quite a few local residents objected to the assertion by Pratt and Councilman Lander that many in Gowanus were open to high rises from 8 to 18 stories to achieve the goals set forth by Bridging Gowanus.
The density had been determined by a rather misleading exercise given to residents at the public meeting in June which asked residents to add two stories to a four story building for every amenity, like school, park or art space, that would be added to the neighborhood. Those who checked off every amenity ended up with residential buildings up to 18 stories high.

To Lander, it was all a trade off for providing more parkland, more schools, more affordable housing and protection of manufacturing zones in Gowanus.
"We did ask people to think hard of the tradeoffs that are necessary," Brad Lander commented. "These kinds of investments and achieving the level of preservation we just talked about costs a lot of money."

It is interesting to note that 'Bridging Gowanus' is not the first time the community was asked to envision the future of the neighborhood. Back in 2007, Pratt Center helped convene Gowanus Summit, "a coalition of civic, housing and community development, manufacturing, and labor groups to establish ground rules for development around the Gowanus Canal."
The summit "aimed to ensure that new development meets the needs of area residents and sets high standards for local quality of life."
Even more interesting, Brad Lander was the director for Pratt Center for Community Development in 2007.

Shortly afterwards, in May 2008, while Bill de Blasio was our councilman, the New York City Department of City Planning released its Gowanus Canal Corridor Draft Zoning Proposal The agency was ready to push a major re-zoning through, though there was much opposition from the community.
That re-zoning effort was eventually put on hold after the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund in 2009.

The prospect of a re-zoning has caused developers to circle around the neighborhood like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Since 2008, most of the land around the Gowanus Canal has been snapped up in a veritable gold rush.  But before that land is re-zoned from manufacturing to residential, they can't start building their luxury condos.
Developers are probably calling our elected officials on a regular basis to apply pressure (or, perhaps to host fundraisers and contribute to campaigns).

Which brings me back to last Thursday's meeting.
After all his promises and assurances that the Bridging Gowanus process and subsequent re-zoning will be transparent and inclusive, Councilman Brad Lander should know better than to 'step up' the process without announcing it to the community.
Shame on him.

***As of this morning, Catheribe Zinnel of Lander's office had not provided the requested attendance list for last Thursday's meeting.  Nor did she provide a list of attendees of another 'Bridging Gowanus Part 2' meeting that took place earlier on Thursday.


Anonymous said...

The art of being a sell out. Following in his predecessor's footsteps. Meet the new guy, same as the old guy. DeBlasio must be proud of his grasshopper. SMH.

Anonymous said...

Sickening. But I'm not surprised. It may take awhile but Brad's hubris and disdain for his construents (the ones who actually reside in his district) will be his downfall. I am a long time resident and don't have the foggiest who these people and organizations are and why are they allowed to come to the table and make decisions that will affect my family's quality of life, property value, school capacity, etc.

I would love to find out which of our other electeds, if any, have attended or are privy to these secret meetings.

Barrin said...

Brad Lander is following the footsteps of Deblasio who will be indicted soon... Brad Lander is a snake and he wants to be mayor next. Gowanus dredgers has taken bribes from the developers for their support of more condos on the Gowanus sewer. Imagine having canoe trips as your toilet flush drifts by...

Anonymous said...

So? What else is new in the land of politicos?

Anonymous said...

He's merely elected; he's not the king. Time to vote him out.

Anonymous said...

I'd be quite interested to know the selection process that allowed the Pratt Institute to be hired as consultant on this.
The Gowanus Canal is apparently not the only cesspool in the neighborhood.

Ringoandme2 said...

Disheartening and disappointed
I witnessed a group of community organizations at the meeting when we learned by chance of this "invited only meeting" bullied and insulted Katia in the attempt to silence her of her concerns. It was totally surreal as well as the most ugliest behavior from a group of supposedly respected community members. Yes.... this is shameful indeed!

Anonymous said...

Submit a FOIL request for documents about the meeting to get more information.

Anonymous said...

Evidently Councilman Lander is banking on the community having no memory whatsoever.
and all the links at the end of each post.
Lander has a well deserved reputation of playing gut wrenching games on this enormously important issue public issue.
Do not believe a word coming out of that office, sorry to say.

Anonymous said...

Time to vote this phony out of office

MrsSam said...

Go Katia, go!
Talk about what's done in the dark ALWAYS comes to light! Shameful indeed!

Anonymous said...

Brad Lander, and perhaps our other electeds, have a pre-determined outcome. I think he is using these organizations who purport to represent the "community" to sell this plan to the masses. Well, I have news for Bradford, the community is a lot larger than these groups hardly anyone has heard of. They do not speak for me or my family.

This plan will not only affect our neighborhood but all of Bradford's district. Residential upzoning will affect school capacity especially at middle schools. It's time for ALL of district 15 and council districts 33 and 39 to WAKE UP.

Anonymous said...

A reminder to Brad and other community leaders operating in secret: sunshine is the best disinfectant!

Anonymous said...

Bravo Katia!!! Obviously Brad Lander doesn't know what inclusive and transparent means. Thanks for calling him out

Anonymous said...

Can't help but wonder, if somewhere at the core of this push to rezone Gowanus for high-rise (housing which is not really suited to such development) is that early relationship between DeBlasio and Jona S. Rechnitz who was part of the Africa Israel corporation who owns the Gowanus Power House property?

Have there been deals struck between city government and private entities which are in such opposition to community shared-values that they need act in secrecy in order to fabricate a community perspective to counter the actual public perspectives?

Is there any hope that city government can come up with an area wide zoning that actually reflects the goals and "shared values" of the local community? Because everyone can now sees that 12 story housing towers don't belong at the edge of the Gowanus basin. But the call for more massive housing on the banks of the canal is all one hears from the city and the councilman's office. Where is the call to support new commercial development and maintain existing commercial enterprises like Eastern Effects? And where is the emphasis on the environmental concerns of this landscape?

Jimmy from Brooklyn said...

Can we recall this piece of trash of a councilperson?

Anonymous said...

The Pratt Center is one of the most well-respected community based planning organizations out there. Its early leaders pioneered community-based planning in the 60s and 70s and it continues to be a group that advocates for plans that serve community needs (Adam Friedman, it's director, has led the push for preserving manufacturing in the city which developers hate, they can't rezone their M1s to Rx; others have done important community-based preservation studies that were HIGHLY challenging to developers.) This is NOT a group that wants developer-led business as usual in New York; it's a group with a decades-long opposition to such processes and a deep commitment to public good for New Yorkers of all income levels. (I am a historian of planning as well as a local resident so chiming in with what I know.)

To me they seem like much better stewards of this process than many: they have longstanding ties to public housing community organizations, anti-gentrification agencies, environmental groups than most other groups out there. But if you can give specific information about how they "controlled" the meetings maybe we could judge for ourselves.

I am all for transparency and I'm grateful for how involved you are in community issues and your constant reporting on them. But I want to add that sometimes it's necessary to plan in small groups. You can't always generate new visions for places without an entire community present and you sometimes need representatives of organizations - people who have real support of a swath of community, rather than just individuals with a bunch of different viewpoints - to be able to develop a plan. That's why people form community organizations. The plans then should be aired and debated in the open and NOT approved until there is broad-based support for them.

Again, I do not disagree that this plan needs community input and many opportunities for review. But I have to say I trust Lander more than almost anyone else in city government to do this. It's unfair to blame either Lander or this planning process for the gold rush around the Gowanus. That's been happening for years - before 2008 - and intensified after the EPA announced cleanup. It's a citywide problem. Goldrush everywhere.

We do need to call on Lander - and de Blasio and Albany and City Planning - to be creative about how the cope with such gold rushes, to preserve existing communities and to foster the kinds we want. But to me Lander's been ten millions times better than BdB (developer shill through and through.) Don't confuse the two.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing new under the sun. When Brad was with the Pratt Area Group he learned for his mentor (Bill D) how to make friends with the developers. He is just doing what her trained for. And is it any surprise that these same groups are members of the Gowanus CAG and sit on the CAG Land Use Committee. When it comes to screwing the public our electeds (at all levels) show just how professional they are. Brad's Bridging Gowanus was one of his best productions with support from all of the area's elected and from a number of civic organizations. Nothing like have one of the City Planning Commissioners in your back pocket. even if she does "work" for the Fifth Avenue Committee.

Anonymous said...

Lander is term limited so there's nobody to vote out.

Didn't Lander previously work with Pratt before, during or after his work with the 5th Ave Committee?

Katia said...

I may be mistaken, but doesn't Brad get a third term as councilman since he was elected when Bloomberg gave himself a third term?

Agnes said...

It's common knowledge that Brad Lander delivers to developers what they want. Any "public input" is a ruse. I hope that the ill fate that awaits deBlassio takes care of Brad also.

Peter said...

You are right Katia. He is part of the "Class of 2009" which is the last one which can run for a third term.