Brad Lander’s Brownfield Of Dreams Part 1: Our Councilman’s Push To Build Housing And A School On The Most Polluted Site in Gowanus Is Folly
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.
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.
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.)
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?
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.
Ahead of the meeting, Brad Lander’s office released a statement that reads in part:
“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.”
The truth is that to this day, Public Place remains one of, if not the most polluted site along the Gowanus Canal and needs extensive 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.
The responsibility for the clean-up falls on National Grid. The work will be 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, is also 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.
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.”
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.”