Gowanus residents make last-ditch effort to stop city plan

“This is probably the most important community struggle in Brooklyn this century.”

May 22, 2019 Scott Enman
Gowanus residents rallied on Wednesday morning, calling for a moratorium on the neighborhood's rezoning. Photo by Scott Enman
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Opponents of the city’s plan to rezone Gowanus mobilized their largest rally to date on Wednesday morning, calling for a moratorium on the city’s controversial plan that could bring 20,000 new residents to the area. Protesters argued that the cleanup of the toxic Gowanus Canal should take precedence over a rezoning.

The city introduced a proposal in late March that prioritizes an increase in housing and industrial space, and seeks to streamline waterfront access. The public comment review period for the Gowanus rezoning ends in five days.

But critics demand the city put the brakes on the process.

“This is probably the most important community struggle in Brooklyn this century,” said Tom Angotti, an urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College. “I’m constantly amazed at how shortsighted the Department of City Planning is. … It’s building for the next 10 to 20 years, but not for the next century.”

Public housing residents, environmentalists and representatives of local politicians yelled and showcased signs with clear messages: “What the F*#%! DCP,” “Stop assaulting our communities,” “Gowanus needs a better plan,” and “A developer’s dream, a community’s nightmare.”

Nora Almeida even had a tank top custom designed to read, “ULURP ≠ USURP: No high rises in Gowanus!” “I wear this to the YMCA every day,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.

A protestor shows off her sign. Photo by Scott Enman
A protestor shows off her sign. Photo by Scott Enman

Roughly three dozen protestors voiced again their opinions from the public scoping meeting, saying the Gowanus Canal must be remediated before the rezoning. They also argued that the city needs to explicitly outline how it plans to mitigate the massive amounts of combined sewer overflow that would threaten the waterway’s cleanup as a result of added density.

(During heavy storms, rain that flows into city sewer systems can overwhelm waste treatment plants, forcing them to dump untreated sewage into New York’s waterways. When this occurs, it’s known as combined sewer overflow — or CSO.)

A few feet behind the rally on the Carroll Street Bridge, workers from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection were taking water samples of the toxic canal.

NYCDEP employees take water samples of the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Scott Enman
NYCDEP employees take water samples of the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Scott Enman

“We should not have an open sewer in an area targeted for development,” said Glenn Kelly, a longtime activist and Community Board 6 member. “This is New York City. This is the 21st century. This is embarrassing.

“We can do this better, and we are therefore calling for a moratorium on this rezoning until these demands can be incorporated and guaranteed.”

DCP spokesperson Joe Marvilli, however, said that the city has the same goals as residents to remediate the waterway and the neighborhood.

“Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal and the surrounding neighborhood is at the absolute center of our ongoing planning work with this community,” Marvilli said. “Until we move forward, we won’t get the public and private investments needed to achieve the community’s vision of a healthy and thriving Gowanus, one with more and diverse jobs, with affordable housing, and a publicly accessible waterfront.”

NYCHA residents argued they were being left out of the equation and that the Gowanus Houses Community Center needs be fixed prior to the rezoning.

Other protestors said they didn’t want Gowanus to turn into Downtown Brooklyn or Long Island City.

An attendee shows off her sign. Photo by Scott Enman
Protestors hold up their signs. Photo by Scott Enman

For some, it wasn’t the presence of the affordable housing, but its placement. One attendee argued that affordable housing should not be placed along the water because sea-level rise will threaten those very buildings in the near future.

It will “expensive reckoning” when residents are forced to retreat from the area due to flooding, protestors said, adding that there are better, safer and less-expensive locations to put housing.

“Bringing 20,000 new residents to Gowanus as part of the proposed rezoning before a comprehensive environmental cleanup is criminal,” local blogger Katia Kelly said. “Completely remediate. Prepare for the population and then responsibly rezone.”

Update: A quote from DCP was added to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Nora Almeida.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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