And the bike tales keep rolling in this week. We just posted about Whole Food Gowanus’s new cargo bikes and now the tale of Bill the pizza bike messenger. Best Pizza, in Williamsburg, all star rider gets it to you hot and fresh. Check it out.
Ok, so we like to keep people informed and so have found ourselves on the email list of Take Back Gowanus. In this email (which we have been approved to make public), titled: Followup and Future: The Gowanus Preservation Society Meeting Review and Moving Forward, Joseph Alexiou, who led Take Back Gowanus, presented a document that had all the raw idea notes from the groups first meeting. At first we wanted to list them all, but it’s a really long list. So, you can find it here. This list is good to know, since we generalized this information in one of our previous postings and of course it shows that there are lots and lots and lots of issues that Gowanus residents have. Joseph goes on in the email to say the group may have another meeting soon, pending everyones schedule.
Also in the email were comments directed at City Council Member Brad Lander’s recent posting called Planning for the future of Gowanus discussing Bridging Gowanus and the issues raised at the separate Take Back Gowanus meeting. Joseph praises the Council Member, who was BCC on the email, but still feels like issues were left out of the process. With that stated, Joseph indicates in the email that he wants to be further involved in the Council Members framework report, which gathered data from a separate event called Bridging Gowanus. This whole thing can get a bit confusing, if one is not in the know. Here is the skinny… City Council Member Brad Lander had a series of public forums for Gowanus residents to discuss issues facing the community called Bridging Gowanus. Not surprisingly, some people in the community were less than pleased that all the concerns about development were not a focus of Bridging Gowanus. In particular Gowanus resident Joseph Alexiou was very vocal about the development concerns at the Bridging Gowanus meetings. So, these dissatisfied people had their own meeting, lead by Joseph Alexiou, called Take Back Gowanus. They came up with lots of issues (shown here) . Now an email from Joseph is requesting that he be involved with the Council Member Brad Lander’s framework report over the Bridging Gowanus meetings he and the others were originally displeased with.
Joseph also wonders if anyone else can be included in the framework report discussions. And here is where we at GYFO jump in with a little bit of opinion. We at GYFO would like to be a part of this framework report discussion. Not as press, but as people that have covered the neighborhood for a while and have just reported on issues in a ‘neutral’ sort of way. But here is where we see a problem with us jumping in; we are just one group out there of a very crowded community of groups and people with varying positions. Everyone would be a little confused as to why a single rep from Gowanus Alliance, Gowanus By Design, South Brooklyn Development Corporation, Take Back Gowanus, or anyone else would not be a part of the framework report discussion. Although, Joseph does represent multiple groups in the area, we are not sure how the community would feel if he gets in and others don’t. As you can tell from our request to jump in, GYFO would totally be jealous and we think we wouldn’t be alone. That being said maybe its a saparate meeting with Joseph on behalf Take Back Gowanus to hash out the bit City Council Member Brad Lander noted that he would put in to cover the groups issues.
So, is it enough for City Council Member Brad Lander to add in the concerns from Take Back Gowanus? Are more Bridging Gowanus meetings (or similar with Gowanus movers & shakers) necessary? Or can Gowanus just see that all the issues may not be in this particular report… and thus more reports should be done? It looks like only City Council Member Lander will be able to decide.
Despite Whole Foods Gowanus store’s troubles with the 3rd Ave bike lane, it looks likes they may actually love bikes. They recently partnered with People’s Cargo to make custom built electric-assist cargo bikes that will be used to make local deliveries. The cargo bikes are anything but standard, as they look a bit smaller than normal cargo bikes (if cargo bikes are normal) – thus more maneuverable for the city streets, come with a cooler – to keep things fresh, and also have solar panel to help with charging.
This bike is yet another step that Whole Food Gowanus has taken to help bolster their claim as the most sustainable super market in the U.S.. The Whole Food Gowanus store, if you didn’t know, rocks solar panels over the parking lot, unique windmills, and a rooftop green house. It’s a one of a kind store, in a one of a kind neighborhood.
This video maybe geared towards Europeans, but it applies to everyone on the planet. Plastic is killing everything in the ocean. Let us repeat. PLASTIC IS KILLING EVERYTHING IN THE OCEAN! It’s not a guess anymore, it’s is happening and we have to stop it.
Info on the film here: itsaplasticworld.com
A bit of background. I make my living as a urban design and transportation planner and am involved with Gowanus by Design. I supported and continue to support the Superfund cleanup. My family has lived in the area since 1993. We bought in 2000 and have undergone four renovations (as money allowed). After Irene we built a flood wall which kept Sandy at bay (except for the basement). We disconnected our rain gutters from the sewer system and built a drywell so that our stormwater does not run off into the canal. We have to get our homeowners insurance through Lloyd’s of London because no one else will cover us. Flood insurance essentially doubles our payments.
We live across the street from the Lightstone site but did not support it. We are not anti-development, but are opposed to developers with fleets of lawyers and special dispensations. The idea that high-rise housing should be built on a brownfield in a flood zone over former swamp where the bedrock is 90 feet below grade represents poor urban planning. There are plenty of better sites nearby on higher, cleaner ground closer to transit, shops and schools. My neighbors and I organized in late 2013 to protect ourselves from the Lightstone construction, including hiring our own engineer.
My read of the current situation is the Lightstone development has so antagonized the neighborhood that people are beginning to understand just what a decade or more of construction portends. There is nothing like the pounding of 1200 piles to focus the mind. To wit:
- The Superfund designation scared off many speculative developers which created space for many properties to be locally and organically developed and small businesses to proliferate (Ample Hills, Bell House, Clairware Pottery, Crusader Candle, Foro Marble, Gowanus Industrial Arts Complex, Lavender Lake, Rooftop Films, Square Designs, The Green Building that CB6 rejected for conversion to residential a number of years ago). Lightstone has reminded everyone that giants lurk.
- The City drags its heels and is almost obstructionist when it comes to the Superfund cleanup. They say it is too expensive, but clearly developers have funds to build 12 stories.
- We hear promises of canal-side promenades with waterside access (to the publically-accessible waterway), yet the gate to the Whole Foods canal-side promenade is often locked and there are no access points for boaters.
- We are not opposed to affordable housing, in fact encourage it; however, the affordable house as part of the Barclays center project is just now getting started after 10 years and a binding government directive.
- Lightstone and their contractors have been secretive and unresponsive, even though they claimed they wanted to be good neighbors. They are well versed in the typical game of get it done before the complaints get too loud. They agreed to a non-binding good neighbor agreement with Community Board 6, but we’ve seen scant evidence that that was anything more than fluff.
- We watched while asbestos in the existing building at the Lightstone site was removed by workers wearing nothing more than gloves and cheap face masks. We called 311 and they were made to wear hazmat suits.
- My professional grade decibel monitor has recorded 100 dB when Lightstone is pounding piles about 100 feet away. The NYC noise code states the “quietest pile driving method shall be selected”; a noise barrier shall block the line of sight between the pile driver and any indoor receptor within 200 feet (my bedroom window); the maximum sound is to be 101 dB at 50 feet, and the maximum usage is 20% of total time. When we call DEP, they act like they’ve never heard this issue.
- We call 311 when our house shakes during the Lightstone construction and the operator tells us that it’s our problem and we might be forcibly evacuated.
- On some days the stench from the construction site is overwhelming, such that we call 911 thinking there is a gas leak. Government officials tell us everything is fine, but our noses tell us differently. Is the remediation kosher? Is anyone monitoring the site? According to official files there is benzene, ethylbenzene, n-propylbenzene, methyl tert butyl ether, toluene, and xylenes in the soil. Exposure causes everything from itchy eyes to leukemia.
- Lightstone digs holes in Bond Street in the early morning hours, attaches pipes to the sewer, then quickly fills the hole. No permit is displayed from either DOT or DEP. Then water sewage seeps out of the sewer utility cover in front of my house and sewage gurgles out of our neighbors toilets.
- We attend meetings with DOB and are told that many of the issues are out of their purview and we should visit DEP, DEC, DOT, etc.
- Our local politicians do not respond (if at all) unless there is a petition, then take credit for any changes.
- We are asked to envision the future – but the future is now and we don’t like what we see, hear, feel and smell.
I don’t begrudge Councilman Lander for the current state of affairs. I do not think he is in cahoots or incompetent. He has told me personally that we are all in this together, and I respect that. After all, he appears to be the only local politician to engage. I do think though that Lander has been blindsided by forces somewhat beyond his control.
The first was partially his doing. The Bridging Gowanus sessions were poorly run. I say that as a professional in the field. The second is that the city, especially 311, is ill-equipped to deal with situations like the Lightstone construction. The lack of coordination from government officials and anything remotely resembling action is astounding.
In response I propose the following:
- We need to devise a way for the City to proactively enforce its rules regarding noise, remediation and other construction activity. Relying on 311 calls is almost duplicitous. I propose an ombudsperson who would report to the Community Board or Public Advocate and be funded by developer fees. They could force the use of screw pile drivers and verify no toxic fumes are emitted from the site.
- We need an all-agency “no buck-passing” meeting with the city, state and federal government. The neighborhood has a right to straight answers.
- We cannot ever again accept non-binding agreements with developers. Either put it in writing and back it with bonds, or go away.
- As a condition of receiving a building permit, I would like for Lightstone to create a contingency fund for physical damages to neighboring buildings.
The DEP, NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection, posted a video explaining the upgrades to the Gowanus Canal Flushing tunnel and the Gowanus Waste Water Pumping Station. As you may or may not know the Gowanus Canal Flushing tunnel is a twelve foot diameter, mile long tunnel, which after the upgrade will bring higher oxygenated water from the Buttermilk Channel to the top (dead end point) of the Gowanus Canal. The Gowanus Waste Water Pumping Station has been upgraded from moving 20 million gallons of water per day to moving 30 million gallons of stinky waste water per day away from the Canal. The upgrade project, which was suppose to cost $158 million, but ending up costing $177 million, is the key to improving the Gowanus Canal as well as a means for satisfying the requirements set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who declared the Canal a superfund site in 2010.
We walked on down to Ample Hill Creamery today at the corner of Union St. and Nevins St. in Gowanus, Brooklyn and let’s just say it totally deserve the phrase “super sweet!” Inside we found lots and lots of flavors including the delicious It Came From The Gowanus, which is Salty Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Hazelnut, Crack cookies topped with White Chocolate Pearls and Orange-scented Brownies. Say What! Its flavor is the exact opposite of the stinky Canal that its name refers to. It’s like a flavor of…explosion-in-your-mouth-goodness! (we also heard they have a vegan sorbet for you none dairy folks, which is equally as awesome).
One would never think that the Gowanus neighborhood would be known as the go-to for ice cream, but today that truly has changed. Now go stuff your face with ICE CREAM!
Ample Hills Creamery in Gowanus
305 Nevins St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Sun – Thurs: Noon to 11pm
Fri & Sat: Noon to 12am
the link shown in the video: www.dearfcc.org
Right after hurricane Sandy we did a quick test of water from our local Gowanus friends sinks. At first we found little to no signs of chlorine, but a few days later during another test we found chlorine levels went way up. This uptick in chlorine came all the way from upstate, where our water comes from; the water treatment plants had begun to add chlorine shortly after the storm. This was to help with any bacteria that might have gotten into the water system after the storm. New York Tap Water is pretty badass and frankly Tap Water in general is pretty darn amazing. There are all sorts of things that go into making the water we all drink. Check out the video below that explains what you will most likely find in Tap Water throughout the U.S. …
NY1 does like a mash up of Gowanus community feelings with what appears to be footage from Bridging Gowanus…
If you’ve never watched Lavender Lake: Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, a documentary presented by Ben Sonnenberg, you might want to set some time this weekend to do so. The film from 1998 captures the history of the Gowanus Canal and touches on the the struggles of the local community sorting out area development for the future. Some residents want the zones around the Canal to be a public river walk, while others want it to stay manufacturing. Sound familiar? Watching this will make you think about all the discussion happening now…