LISTEN: Gowanus rezoning highlights city’s love for development

May 2, 2019 By Scott Enman, Paul Frangipane, Lawrence Madsen
The Gowanus Canal. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The polluted 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal has been subjected to decades of sewage contamination and industrial pollution, and while it’s nowhere near clean, the city is pushing forward with a plan that could sprout 30-story towers and bring waves of new residents to the banks of the waterway. 

“Without a doubt every story in New York City is a real estate story and the people calling the shots here first and foremost are the developers who are going to want to throw the money into building this stuff,” Joseph Alexiou, an author, tour guide and neighborhood activist, said on the Brooklyn Eagle‘s podcast, Brooklyn This Week. “The [city officials] insert what they want into the conversation and it appears there and what people keep saying are issues, don’t appear.”

The Department of City Planning wants to rezone the industrial neighborhood to create some 8,200 apartments, bringing in an estimated 18,000 new residents and creating more than 3,000 jobs. But the proposal fails to prepare for the inevitable overburden that new residents would bring to the neighborhood, further polluting the toxic canal.

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The primary historic industrial contamination in the waterway is coal tar from three manufactured gas plants and it continues to suffer from combined sewer overflow, or CSO. But the Superfund site cleanup is still in its early stages.

“The thing that this doesn’t address the most is how there is toxic waste under all of this land that they want to build on and they’re willing to disturb it to the nth degree to build tall buildings on it,” Alexiou said. “And in no way does this rezone address any of the actual concerns of that or require mitigation beyond the minimum.”

Andrea Parker, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy said any development must be done in concert with investment in infrastructure.

“It’s not the development that’s the issue, it’s the lack of infrastructure that’s the issue,” Parker said. “We want to see no additional combined-[sewer]-overflow caused by this rezoning. There are many ways to achieve that goal but that’s the goal.”

In addition to overburdening the neighborhood’s infrastructure and school system, preservationists and activists are worried about the character of the neighborhood being adversely affected

“There is nothing in the current plan that improves the neighborhood, absolutely nothing,” said Linda Mariano, founder of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. “The city planning is not a plan for this neighborhood, it is a fantasy and we can’t live in a fantasy. If we wanted a fantasy we’d go live in Disney World or Hollywood.”

  • Interview with Scott Enman at 1:30
  • Interview with Joseph Alexiou at 6:09
  • Interview with Linda Mariano at 11:20
  • Interview with Andrea Parker at 13:44

Brooklyn this Week‘s host Lawrence Madsen is a native New Yorker. He attended Columbia University, and volunteers with the disaster relief group Team Rubicon.

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