Velazquez, Simon call on city to redo environmental study for Gowanus rezoning

September 10, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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The often-debated Gowanus Rezoning Plan had another setback on Wednesday when U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights-DUMBO-Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens-Gowanus-Boerum Hill-Park Slope) held a press conference on the banks of the Gowanus Canal and called on the city to redo the environmental impact statement for the rezoning plan in the wake of Hurricane Ida. 

The lawmakers, both of whom represent the neighborhood surrounding the canal, are urging the city to re-evaluate the study, which they argue does not adequately consider the consequences of climate change in Gowanus or combined sewer overflow into the canal.

“The Gowanus rezoning must not proceed until a new EIS is completed, one that includes direct involvement of the EPA and FEMA in the preparation of the study as involved agencies  — and one that actually uses relevant post-Sandy data,” said a statement from the Voice of Gowanus, a neighborhood organization that opposes the rezoning plan.

Briefly speaking, the rezoning plan would change zoning rules in an 80-block area surrounding the canal and would facilitate the building of 8,498 new units of housing. The city says that nearly 3,000 units would be affordable, a point often mentioned by supporters of the plan.

These two people showed exactly what they think of the Gowanus rezoning plan’s environmental impact statement. Photo courtesy of Voice of Gowanus

However, last month, the federal Environmental Protection agency sent a letter to Marisa Lago, director of the NYC Department of City Planning,  complaining of inconsistencies in stormwater calculations and asking that major sections of the EIS be redone according to EPA directives. The EPA has a say in the development process because the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal, at the center of the neighborhood, is a federal Superfund site.

Velázquez and Simon sent a letter on Sept. 8th to Mayor Bill de Blasio that cites the EPA’s letter and raises several concerns over the City’s DEIS for Gowanus rezoning.

Rep. Velazquez said in a statement, “As I have said in the past, New York City’s infrastructure is not where it needs to be to withstand climate change. Tragically, we saw this again last week with Ida. When it comes to the Gowanus rezoning, the city’s environmental impact statement is wrought with inconsistencies and contradictions, as pointed out by EPA and many groups. 

“That’s why Assemblymember Simon and I are asking the city to revisit their draft environmental impact statement when it comes to the rezoning of Gowanus,” she said.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, whose district stretches from DUMBO to Park Slope. Photo by Susannah Pasquantonio

Assemblymember Simon said, “I join CongressmemberNydia Velázquez and the community in urging the city to revise the Gowanus rezoning DEIS to address the significant inconsistencies and contradictions identified by the EPA. It is mind-boggling that the city thought it could ignore the EPA’s recommendations, and are apparently planning to issue a final EIS this week, without correcting the contradictions and using updated modeling, instead of data from 2008.”

Similarly, the Sept. 8 letter from the two officials said, in part, “Based on the current DEIS (draft environmental impact statement), it is abundantly clear that the city cannot assure that sewer overflows won’t be increased and therefore compromise the cleanup and health of the canal and local residents and workers. The city needs to get it right before it proceeds and that means a full and responsible cleanup instead of non-compliance with EPA orders on the overflow tanks. The tanks should be the bare minimum. The city needs to do much more now to ensure responsible development in the future, especially with record-setting storms now being the norm.”

Voice of Gowanus commented, “We applaud Congressmember Velazquez and Assemblymember Simon for their courage in standing up for what’s right, for what protects human health and safety”.

At the press event, Velázquez and Simon were joined by members of Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Public Housing Civic Association, FUREE, FROGG and Forth on Fourth Avenue, as well as Voice of Gowanus.

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