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Brad Lander’s Brownfield of Dreams Part 2: The Councilman’s Shameful Neglect In Mentioning Public Place’s Special Designation

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Councilman Brad Lander
 Public Place site at Smith and 5th Street
Looking At Public Place from Hoyt Street
2008 Hudson Company rendering for Gowanus Green
One of the slides from the Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study mentioning the need to remove the Public Place designation in order to build on the 5.8 acre site.

Documents showing Public Place’s special designation

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In “Brad Lander’s Brownfield Of Dreams Part 1“, I wrote at length about our council member’s desire to see housing and a school built on Public Place, the most polluted site along the Gowanus Canal.

The City-owned six acre Brownfield site near the intersection of Smith and 5th Streets adjacent to the Gowanus Canal was once a Manufactured Gas site and remains critically polluted to this day.

Lander has been pushing for  Gowanus Green, the name of this new development for more than ten years. A team of developers has been chosen and the plan for Public Place calls for 1000 units of 100% affordable housing in 30 story buildings . It also calls for a public school, community facilities and open space.
Back in 2008, Gowanus Green was about to move forward. All that was needed was to rezone the land from industrial to mixed-use through the Uniform Land Use Process (ULURP)
The very first scoping hearing took place on December 17, 2008.

And then the Gowanus Canal was declared an EPA Superfund site and the ULURP went no further.

What most local residents did not know at the time because it was not advertised nor mentioned at the hearing, was that Public Place had a very special designation.

For decades, Carroll Gardeners have referred to the empty parcel  (Block 471, Lots 1 and 100) as “Public Place‘ since it was their understanding that it was given back to the community as park land. 
Indeed, the use of the site is restricted to this very day by a 1974 Board of Estimate ruling that severely limits its uses allowed as-of-right. 
After a thorough community review process shortly after the City acquired the site, the City of New York‘s Planning Commission and Board of Estimate set aside the 5.8 acres “for public recreational use” on the City Map on February 27, 1974, (Calendar CP 22590).

A supportive document from April 3, 1974 states:
City Councilman Thomas J. Cuite and representatives of State Senator Carol Bellamy and Assemblyman Michael Pesce recommended that Public Place designation be adopted in view of the overwhelming demand throughout the community for available open space which should be set aside for public use. Also stressed was the necessity for such space in order to preserve the vitality and stability of the residential neighborhood.”

Appropriately, the land was first assigned to the NYC Parks Department, but later moved to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), before being transferred in 2008 to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development(HPD).  Shortly afterwards, the City took steps to spot-rezone the site for the Gowanus Green development and issued a Draft Scope of Work for an Environmental Impact Study in November 2008.
The 2008 Draft Scope of Work specifically mentions several discretionary actions that would have to be taken as part of a re-zoning, including a “map amendments to the city map to: (i) remove the Public Place designation on Lots 1 and 100″  (PAGE 5).
Now that the City has included Public Place in its overall rezoning of Gowanus, many in the community are concerned that the move is a way to rezone Public Place without addressing its specific restrictions. Our local Electeds, Community Board or  NYC DCP have not been forthcoming with information or acknowledgement that there may be a ‘deed restriction‘. There is a “mention of proposed city map changes” in the Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study, but it is never talked about openly.
They are probably hoping that most in the neighborhood have forgotten that the land was given back to the community for recreational use.

Yet, the argument can be made that that the heavily polluted former MGP site was given to the community in the 1970’s as parkland to right an environmental wrong committed over decades in our neighborhood. After all, the The City of New York first acquired portions of the former Fulton Municipal Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) in 1938 and returned it to the Gowanus community as a City Park.

In the past, there have been attempts to turn Public Place into parkland. Former Carroll Gardens Assemblyman, neighborhood activist and Second Place resident Frank Verderame’ dream was to turn it into ballfields for local kids. He reminded the City of its own recommendation to set it aside for public recreation when the Gowanus Green development was first discussed. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008, his dream for Public Place never realized.
This has always been an environmental justice issue.  For generations, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus residents have been exposed to all sorts of environmental dangers from former MGP sites as well as from pollutants that were discharged into our canal and seeped deeply into the ground.
In 1974, Community Board 6 and our elected officials supported the special designation of Public Place. They rejected building on the land. The Planning Commission concluded that “the overwhelming and future public interest is in designation of the site as a Public Place.” 
Brad Lander, our councilman, has not been honest with us. His own dream is to bring an estimated 22,000 new residents to the Gowanus Corridor. 
He touts that as part of the rezoning,  the neighborhood will gain ‘open space’  on Public Place if 1000 apartments are built as part of the Gowanus Green development.
If Brad Lander wants to take Public Place away from the community, to give it to developers, we need to demand a stand-alone process, apart from the overall Gowanus rezoning,  one that will allow us to consider a ‘no build option.’

This Monday, December 2, the NYC Department of City Planning and NYC Housing, Preservation, and Development  will be presenting an update on the Public Place / Gowanus Green site to Community Board 6 at PS 32.

Public Place/Gowanus Green Presentation to CB6
Monday, December 2, 6:30 PM
P.S. 32
317 Hoyt Street

Below is a video taken in 2010, in which Brad Lander, when pressed by a Gowanus resident, acknowledged that Public Place ‘had an ususual designation.

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