TAKE BACK GOWANUS – A Homeowner’s Reaction

The tête–à–tête between Bridging Gowanus and Take Back Gowanus has brought to the fore a simmering debate about the future of the area around the fetid waterway. This is one homeowner’s observation.

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.

l1We 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.L2
  • 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.

L3I 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:

  1. 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.
  2. We need an all-agency “no buck-passing” meeting with the city, state and federal government. The neighborhood has a right to straight answers.
  3. We cannot ever again accept non-binding agreements with developers. Either put it in writing and back it with bonds, or go away.
  4. As a condition of receiving a building permit, I would like for Lightstone to create a contingency fund for physical damages to neighboring buildings.

 

*This posting was submitted by Michael King a local Gowanus resident. If you have a different take or additional information regarding the issues noted in this posting, please comment or send an email to GowanusYourFaceOff@gmail.com.

 
 

(The images shown in this posting were done by a member of the GYFO Team.)

participatory budget your face off!

It’s total time to vote for your favorite idea from the Participatory Budgeting projects!!!

The following list with videos shows details of projects for District 39, which technically only is for part of Gowanus. (District 38 details are here. And the rest of the Districts with projects are listed here.)

Where and when to vote:
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What to vote on (broken down by category):

Culture & Community Facilities

Media Van for Community Film and Filmmakers

District 39 Media Van from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

A media van so Rooftop Films can strengthen community and school partnerships and show over 50 public screenings per year – $45,000

Environment

Industrial Shredder for Community Compost Project

District 39 Shredder for Community Compost from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Serious shredder and shed to enhance Gowanus composting center; will process food scraps, leaves, trees, lunch trays – $105,000

Raising the (Green) Roof @ Windsor Terrace Library

District 39 Raising the (Green) Roof @Windsor Terrace Library from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

The green roof will reduce energy use, limit stormwater run-off, improve air quality, add wildlife habitat & beautify – $250,000

Solar Panels on Firehouse Heat Water, Save Energy

District 39 Solar Firehouse from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Captures clean solar energy to meet hot water needs of firefighters and make firehouse more resilient to extreme weather – $140,000

Parks

Repair & Repave Ennis Playground Basketball Court

District 39 Repair & Repave Ennis Playground Basketball Court from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Repair and repave the cracked and unusable basketball court at Ennis Playground as a first step toward a renovated park – $250,000

Repair and Improve Three Pathways in Prospect Park

District 39 Repair and Improve Three Pathways in Prospect Park from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Repair and resurface pathways that flood and are covered in mud: Endale Arch, East side of Lake, and Villa parking lot – $215,000

 

Streets

39th Council District Security and Safety Project

District 39 Security and Safety Project from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Install security cameras in each of the District’s four police precincts, especially near Prospect Park – $200,000

Pedestrian Safety on McDonald Ave at Ft Hamilton

District 39 Pedestrian Safety on McDonald Ave from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Expanded sidewalks will shorten crossing distances, reduce speeding, and improve safety for pedestrians – $300,000

Street Safety Improvements on 4th Ave, 8-18th Sts

District 39 Street Safety on 4th Ave from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Improve safety, reduce speeds, and green 4th Ave between 8-18th Streets with raised medians, plantings, benches and more – $300,000

 

Transit

12 Electronic “Bus Location” Signs at B67/69 Stops

District 39 Electronic “Bus Location” Signs at B67/69 Stops from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Install electronic signs at busy stops that tell riders the location and arrival time of their bus – $240,000

 

Education

Outdoor Plaza at John Jay Educational Campus

District 39 Outdoor Plaza at John Jay Educational Campus from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Beautify 5-school building’s exterior with benches and plantings, making sidewalk more welcoming for the whole community – $150,000

Secure the Future: Laptops at PS 130, 230 & 321

District 39 Laptops at PS 130, 230 & 321 from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

Enable tech access across diverse communities: laptop carts for 3rd-5th graders at PS 130, 321 & PS 230′s ELL adult program – $195,000

Tech Buzzing: Smartboards for PS 29 and 131

District 39 Tech Buzzing: Smartboards for PS 29 & 131 from Arts & Democracy Project on Vimeo.

24 smartboards across these two schools will improve tech access and move classrooms into the 21st century – $140,000

 

Community Planning Meeting Will Be Held on Monday, December 9th by Councilman Brad Lander

Brad Lander

Brad Lander

Councilman Brad Lander of the 39th District has invited Gowanus residents to meet with him and other local politicians at a new recurring event called Bridging Gowanus, starting on Monday, December 9th at 6:30pm. Loosely put, Bridging Gowanus aims to discuss general environmental, economic, and community goals as the neighborhood moves ahead into the future.

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Submit a Proposal for up to $1 Million of Budgeting for Gowanus Neighborhood Projects!

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting

You remember what Participatory Budgeting is, don’t you? A quick refresher: at least $1 million in funds will be available to go towards projects in District 39, Councilman Brad Lander’s Brooklyn district that includes Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and parts of Red Hook, Windsor Terrace and Kensington. YOU, as a resident of District 39, get to vote directly on which projects receive funding. Now’s the time to submit ideas for projects to be voted on this coming spring.

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Petition to Stop Lightstone’s Larger Version of the Toll Brothers Site

lightstone

Some Gowanus residents are very angry about the 12 story 700 unit condo project from the Lightstone Group, that is to be build without having to go through any of the normal approval procedures. This is because Limestone is building on a site already approved for residential condos (abandoned Toll Brothers Project). But… and there is a big BUT here, the location was only approved for a design that was 8 stories tall and had 447-units as oppose to 12 stories tall and 700 units. Residents want to have a say in a project that is much larger that previously approved.

Friends & Residents of the Greater Gowanus (FROGG) have put together a petition for people to sign opposing the project. The petition request: a Proper Democratic ProcessFull Environmental Impact Review, that the Project Should Be Contextual With the Neighborhood, that the Project should be part of the Overall Framework for Gowanus, and have Affordable Housing.

The petition is available online: http://savegowanus.org/petition

 

NYC 2-Way Black Car Drivers Are on Strike

NYC 2-Way strike

Over 60 black car drivers who work for NYC 2-Way, based at the corner of Bond and Carroll Streets in Gowanus, are currently on strike and picketing outside the building. The drivers are protesting what they claim to be unfair practices by the limo company — whose clients include Goldman Sachs, Citi Bank, Bank of America and Ernst & Young — including taking 22-32% of the fare, unfairly taking that percentage out of tips and tolls, collecting $56 in weekly dues, charging $130 for a weekly rental of the dispatch radio, and a number of other complaints listed on a document they were handing out.

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Community Marching On New Barclay Stadium!

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It’s going to be an angry weekend apparently…

Some Brooklyn residents are freaking furious about the Barclay Center Stadium (home of the Brooklyn Nets) that opens at the Atlantic Yards this weekend and are planning to descend on the stadium during a busy Saturday!

But, why are they mad you ask?

Is it because the don’t have tickets to this weekends opening Concert?

No, try again…

Is it cause they don’t have there official Adidas Brooklyn Net’s Outfits?

Nope, not even close…

It it cause the metal frame of the whole stadium looks completely unfinished?

Nope…well maybe a little… Continue reading

CB6 Meeting on Bellhouse Sidewalk Space & Shuffleboard’s Liquor License

Aug 27     Public Safety Environmental Protection Permits & Licenses Committee Meeting
Presentation and review of an unenclosed sidewalk cafe permit application renewal submitted to the Department of Consumer Affairs on behalf of The Bell House at 149 7th Street (between 2nd Avenue/3rd Avenue) to permit 5 tables and 20 seats.
Presentation and review of a new on-premises liquor license application submitted to the State Liquor Authority on behalf of The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club at 514 Union Street (between Nevins Street/3rd Avenue)
Presentation and review of an new on-premises liquor license application submitted to the State Liquor Authority on behalf of Pavilion Park Slope Cinemas 9, LLC at 188 Prospect Park West (corner of 14th street)
Presentation and review of a new on-premises liquor license application submitted to the State Liquor Authority on behalf of JJT Hospitality LLC at 213 Smith Street (between Baltic Street/Butler Street)
   Cobble Hill Health Center – Dining Room
380 Henry Street
(between Warren/Congress Streets)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Click here for google map
   6:30 PM

New Graffiti On The Gowanus Power Station: End Stop and Frisk!

shopping-barf-1-2010

Gowanus Power Station graffiti

The Third Avenue side of the abandoned Gowanus Power Station, aka The Batcave, has new graffiti: “End Stop & Frisk” now adorns the building’s south-facing parapet, a reference to the New York City Police Department’s controversial increase of street stops in recent years, long a focal point of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s regime that has recently come under fire. We’re not sure what “Hand” is a reference to, although it could be the artist’s tag.

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Oil vs. Water – Cleaning Slick from the Gowanus Canal

muppet

The rainbow sheen that dances on the surface of the Gowanus Canal isn’t anything pretty, its oil! This oil comes from the streets and from manufacturing along the Canal. Some of the oil has floated in the Canal since the industrial revolution. Oil is one of the biggest problems for the Canal because of the whole oil vs. water thing. Water and oil don’t mix, but you can’t just sift out the oil as no technic has been able separate the two even though they don’t mix. It a conundrum or maybe not! Scott C. Smith of OPFELX Solutions shows how a simple product can remove oil from water. It’s almost like magic! The oil is pulled in by some green polyolefin foam that looks like the remains of a muppet. The product sucks up all the oil out of the water and then that oil can be strained out for reuse. It really sounds too good to be true. Check it out…