Thursday, November 19, 2020

Tonight, Tell Council Member Lander That Building Affordable Housing On The Toxic Public Place Site In Carroll Gardens Is Insane ...And Nefarious

Public Place site at Smith and 5th Street
A 1930 view of the former Citizens Gas Work Site on what is now Public Place


By now, most residents in Gowanus and neighboring areas have hopefully heard about the proposal by the NYC Department of City Planning  to up-zone the Gowanus Canal area, which calls for 8,200 new units of housing that will bring approximately 20,000 new residents to the area.

If this seems insane to most, the plan has nevertheless the backing of Councilman Brad Lander, who has supported the rezoning from the start.
Though it appears on the surface that Lander wants to make sure that "plans for growth are grounded fully in the public interest, and will achieve our shared goals", the rezoning of the Gowanus area was always a huge giveaway to developers despite all the talk about affordable housing units that may be gained in the process.
Councilmember Brad Lander, supporter of housing on Public Place

Which brings us to Public Place, the City-owned six acre Brownfield site near the intersection of Smith and 5th Streets adjacent to the Gowanus Canal. It is currently in NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development portfolio.

Brad Lander has been pushing for the development of housing on Public Place from the moment he ran for City Council, if not before.  From 1993 to 2003,  he served as executive director of Park Slope's Fifth Avenue Committee, a not-for-profit community-based organization that develops and manages affordable housing.)

Interestingly enough,  in 2008, Fifth Avenue Committee, together with  Hudson CompaniesJonathan Rose, and the Bluestone Organization was selected to develop the site for affordable housing with retail space, community facilities and open space.
Fifth Avenue Committee's current executive director is Michelle de la Uz, who also currently serves as a Commissioner of NYC Planning Commission. If that is not a conflict of interest, what is?

Gowanus Green: a proposal for about 900 apartments and a school on permanently toxic land

Their proposal was named 'Gowanus Green' and included 774 units of housing, of which 70% would have been permanently affordable. To move forward, the site needed to go through a rezoning from manufacturing to residential, which never moved forward after the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund Site.

Gowanus Green has been revived of late since City Planning has wrapped Public Place into the framework of the agency's Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study

The new plan for Public Place calls for about 900 units of affordable housing in 30 story buildings as well as a new public school. 

Tonight at 6 pm, the NYC Department of City Planning and the “Gowanus Green” development team are going to present the development at a webinar hosted by Community Board 6.
To register, click here.

In 2019, Brad Lander stated:
"The chance to build a sustainable, mixed-income community in Gowanus is one of the most important and unique opportunities of the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning. Gowanus sits in-between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, two wonderful neighborhoods, with great schools, thriving commercial strips, great access to transit -- and almost no affordable housing. Gowanus Green offers us the opportunity to build hundreds of units of truly affordable housing, right at the heart of the neighborhood, to open up the opportunity of our dynamic community to a much wider range of people than can afford to live here now."

Affordable housing, additional parkland, a new public all sounds great, until you consider the history of Public Place, which Brad Lander refuses to mention in his email to the community.

The truth is that to this day, Public Place will remain one of, if not the most polluted site along the Gowanus Canal even after remediation.

From the 1860s to the early 1960s, the Public Place site was the home of the former Citizens Gas Light Company's 12th Ward Gas Work Plant, a Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) where coal and petroleum products were turned into flammable gas. The gas was used for cooking, lighting, heating and commercial purposes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, one of the by-products of this gasification process is coal tar, a black viscous liquid, which is harmful to humans and the environment. At Public Place,  coal tar has been found in significant amounts at depths of 150 feet.   

When the Citizens Gas Works plant was decommissioned in the 60s, the site was given to the city 'by condemnation' as public land in 1975. Hence the name "Public Place". Citizens Gas Light Company later sold to Brooklyn Union Gas, which became Keyspan, which is now National Grid.

The responsibility for the clean-up falls on National Grid. The work is currently being done under the supervision of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

Since coal tar and contaminated groundwater have been found to ooze from the site into the Gowanus Canal for decades, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which declared the canal a Superfund site in 2010, has also been involved.

Though National Grid's contractor, Creamer Environmental, has been recently implementing remedial actions on the site. we are a long way from a clean environment.
Brownfield remediation consists mostly of removing the top layer of existing dirt, adding new clean fill, and installing a plastic vapor barrier before capping the contamination on the site with cement.

How well those sites are monitored and how long the barriers maintain their integrity is anyone's guess. As an example, the Lowe's site in Gowanus at 9th Street, which was also built on an MGP site but cleaned under the NYS Brownfield program a decade ago, was found to be in need of additional remediation by the EPA.

By far the biggest concern about housing on Brownfield sites is the intrusion of vapors into the structures.  According to Public

"Plastic vapor barriers and other soil containment measures are all that states require in some types of redevelopment.

But sometimes, such efforts fail or the science changes. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation decided to reopen hundreds of Superfund, brownfield, and other sites that had been remediated to investigate potential new threats from vapor intrusion, something that had not been considered at the time of the “cleanups.” The reviews are ongoing, but the agency has already found mitigation will be necessary at more than 70 sites."

If Brad Lander refuses to even acknowledge to his constituents that Public Place will have a plume of coal tar underneath the site in perpetuity, we need tell him that we will hold him ultimately responsible for the health of everyone of the future resident and schoolchild he intends to bring here.

Perhaps he should listen to those who came before him. In 1984, a New York City Partnership withdrew its proposal to build moderate income housing on the site "because of serious environmental problems and exorbitant costs associated with developing the lot."


Anonymous said...

Not quite following your logic here. The city owns the land and is going to clean it up and wants to use it in a way that alleviates a lack of affordable housing and overcrowding at schools. What exactly is the alternative? Leave it as is? What's the counterargument here?

Katia said...

The clean-up consists of removing two feet of top soil from the site, removing the remnants of the structures that remain on the site, installing a new barrier bulkhead at the edge of the canal and adding wells to collect coal tar.
HOWEVER, this is NOT a clean-up. It is only capping or confining the toxins below the surface as coal tar has been found at depths of 153 feet on that site that will remain for all eternity.
The biggest problem is the gases produced by the coal tar. No one can predict with any certainty that gases will not rise into the buildings as time passes.
I know that Lander would probably not want to house a relative in those buildings. neither would Michelle de La Uz. So why are we talking about putting the most vulnerable members of our community there?

Anonymous said...

No one is forcing anyone to live there.
Don't come crying in 20 years when this area becomes billionaires row of Brooklyn.
This is how investments work. You take something worth nothing and start building.
20 year later those that didn't invest will complain how they were oppressed.

Katia said...

Really? that is your attitude? That no one needs to live there? That is just wrong when our councilperson and the Gowanus Green developers don’t speak about how toxic the site is and will remain.

Ben U. said...

I usually back your logic on this site, Katia, but I have to disagree with you here. Affordable housing is a major problem in Brooklyn, and in this area particularly, and we have a unique opportunity to bring in a TON of it, as well as a new school, on a site that's been unused for decades.

Your concerns about the environment are, of course, warranted. The clean-up is happening. Will it be adequate? We have no way of knowing. We have to trust so, even if there will likely be flaws. I don't think remediation down to 153 feet is even possible.

It seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up. Attempting to block it feels like real NIMBY-ism for longtime residents worried about the neighborhood changing.

Katia said...

Hi Ben, my concerns are purely for the health of the people who will live on that site.
As you mention yourself, there is no way of knowing if the brownfield clean up is adequate. Should we take this risk with people’s life in an area were the current population has already been exposed to toxins for a century and a half? Are you really not bothered by this?

Anonymous said...

For all of you that are concerned with the lack of affordable housing, my family and I agree! When the Gowanus rezoning passes, there will be over 2000 affordable units available! That number does not include Public Place.

- What we should be focusing on is holding our elected officials accountable for their lack of commitment to fixing the problems at the NYCHA Houses for the past 11 years.

- What we should be focusing on is the lack of concern that the City has in developing Public Place for housing and a school when it has been declared "the most toxic site" in all of New York State. Who will be responsible when the residents and school kids get sick from breathing in the fumes from the coal tar that will be left behind when the State is done with their "so called" clean up of the former MGP site.

- What we should be focusing on is who benefits from developing Public Place? It's certainly not the tax payers of NYC since the developers are buying the property from the City for $1, that's right, one dollar and benefiting from numerous tax abatement programs so they won't be paying real estate taxes for the next 25 years or be criminally liable for building on toxic land if anyone gets sick.

Margaret said...

To answer your last question 2:55 on who benefits from developing Public Place? Don't forget the "non profit" agency that would be managing the "Affordable Housing" as they are already doing in Lightstone and would be doing with all the "Affordable Housing" being pushed through in Gowanus Rezoning/Upzoning. That agency is The Fifth Avenue Committee. And managing "Affordable Housing" is BIG BUREAUCRATIC BUSINESS. Managing real estate is, as a friend once told me who manages property, the gift that keeps on giving. The Fifth Avenue Executive Director is making the Gowanus Green presentation to CB; CB6 members are not voted in by the COMMUNITY but arer put there by Brad Lander and the Brooklyn Borough President. RIGGED. And Michelle de la Uz also is on the NYC City Planning Board. And here she advancing a real estate project that will directly benefit her Fifth Avenue Committee. RIGGED. And they do it with a straight face and expect people not to add 2 and 2? It's as simple as that!

Anonymous said...

Thank you KATIA for voicing your concerns about Public Place. It’s people like you and Lois Gibbs (Love Canal 1978) that give voice to the toxic brownfields that manufacturing has left us. Thanks to Lois Gibbs the SuperFund law was put into place.

Anonymous said...

Follow the money... Just saying

Anonymous said...

I’m as NIMBY as they come. As I watch my view be shattered by that garbage rising over at Atlantic Yards. That project is barely 25% completed. And at one point was backed by a Chinese corp. In any event building towers next to the canal and the BQE doesn't sound appealing no matter where it’s built. Isn’t half off Williamsburg built on former oil tanks? I don’t see this being any billionairs row. In any event Landers and his Oz mentality about rezoning the Gowanus will destroy not enrich communities. I voted early over at the Red Hook Hoosing East. No trees. Construction fencing. Dirt paths. Deep holes files with water. Why doesn’t this city use it’s coffers to beautify and maintain what it has? For New Yorkers. Not 30 Yr olds from Boise working from home for Google? Follow the money is right. Straight to hell. I agree. Building here bad idea. Up zoning the Gowanus also bad. But. It’s happening. Look at all the empty land along Hoyt street. And other work going around Nevins and directly adjacent the caroll st bridge. Where there a will there’s a way. Sadly. I don’t want 20, 000 people trying to get on the F train, do you?

Anonymous said...

40% of rental housing will be for households with incomes of $81,920 - $122,880 for a family of 3, paying +/- 2,200-3,500 per month in rent. 365 Bond is offering "deluxe market rentals" at $2,500 for a 1BR with 2 months free and no realtor fee. How many apartments will be rentals and how many homeowner?

Anonymous said...

@Katia, I stand by the fact that no one is being forced to live there. I'm sure these developers would LOVE to build luxury condos that sell for $2000/sqft. I say let the rich stew in the filth they created. On the other hand forcing this to be 100% affordable will mean this will not be economically sustainable without continued government funding. No one wants NYCHA 2.0

gowanee said...

Why do we have to go through this when the City is going through so much trauma with Covid now. Why? Because we have to suit Brad Lander's timeline, that's why! And why is Lander pushing through a pre-Covid rezone plan when the City is experiencing record vacancies and is broke. It's gross and predatory.

Anonymous said...

The contamination to remain in this land does leave open many questions but one that is hanging over this whole process: Is this proposal relevant to our current time? As NYC is coping with COVID-19 impacts and preparing for the post-DeBlasio administration, this Gowanus Rezoning could very well be a destabilizing albatross around the neck of the city and state governments. This current proposal and the Gowanus Rezoning are now out-dated, out of sync with today’s needs and the needs unfolding in the coming decades, including unaddressed climate impacts.

The concepts behind the Pubic Place proposal came out of the Bloomberg administration —prior to the financial crisis of 2008. Now under COVID-19, the structure of life in the city is again changing, not just schools and transportation, but the fundamental means of earning income. Just where are the W-2 wage earners these plans expect to be housing? Why is the councilman and DCP pushing what they claim to be an affordable-housing-rezoning that is based on an employment system that no longer exists and many experts do expect to return? Reports show people are turning to self-employment and need housing wit communities designed to support them; not housing units packed by a transit station to take them to manhattan.

Lander must realize this Bloomberg-era planning belongs to that time of major corporate consolidation of “equity" which we have seen concentrate equity at the very top while driving up housing costs throughout the system. There is no percentage of affordable units under these lands action that will tip the scales of inequity. 

There is a reality to the city’s financing that needs to be addressed. What funds are available to secure affordable housing at this time MUST be focused on the affordability of the current building stock. Funds are not only desperately needed for existing NYCHA communities but also for keeping tenants in controlled/stabilized units, open market rentals, and even for those living in co-op buildings. The population of the city was back-sliding in 2019, if the city can’t secure the situation for existing residents in existing housing, and provide a decent quality of life, do we really expect to have new inhabitants for new buildings?

Anonymous said...

Please see above comment. And hope this person will mail this letter straight to city hall. That’s it. Exactly what the said.

Anonymous said...

The thing that keeps being overlooked or forgotten - and thank you, Katia, for pointing this out - the remediation work at Public Place is not by any means a full cleanup.

Contamination will remain on site. The carcinogenic coal tar plumes go down over 100 feet deep under the site, and they are not being fully excavated and remediated. It's foolish to build "affordable" housing on this site.