After a Long Pause, Plans for the Gowanus Begin to Take Shape

Home Brooklyn Life After a Long Pause, Plans for the Gowanus Begin to Take Shape
Contaminated Water in the Gowanus Canal.Nicole Anderson/The Brooklyn Ink

The plans for the Gowanus Canal have been as stagnant in recent years as the canal’s famously contaminated water.

Once a coveted area by developers, the Gowanus Canal fell from grace when the Environmental Protection Agency placed the polluted body of water on the Superfund list in March, 2010. Developers fled, and Gowanus residents were left to speculate on the future of the canal.

But upcoming movement by the EPA, together with recent actions by a community group, indicate that progress is on the horizon.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to release their Feasibility Study in early January that will outline the cleanup alternatives for the contaminated site, coinciding with a community group’s plans to jumpstart redevelopment.

While concerns about the quality of the cleanup persist in some parts of the community, one group that is working closely with Community Board 6 is using a grant from New York State to take the lead on the redevelopment plans.

The group, Friends of Brooklyn CB6, a non-profit, received the $275,000 grant from the State’s Brownfield Opportunity Area program and is using it to hire a team of consultants to create a plan for the re-use and redevelopment of the properties along the Gowanus Canal.

Katia Kelly, a community blogger and member of the Community Advisory Group for the Gowanus (CAG), sees the Brownfield grant as an opportunity for the community to influence the direction of the redevelopment, something that seemed nearly impossible before Gowanus was listed as a Superfund site.

“I would imagine the city will want to rezone it [Gowanus] even more for mixed use or part residential after the EPA is done cleaning it up. The grant I think, if anything, at least, allows an alternate vision to the city’s vision. And we’ve been given a little reprieve here where maybe the community can shape that future in a more holistic way,” says Kelly.

The group announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) three weeks ago to seek out consultants to undertake this project. Craig Hammerman, district manager of CB6, says that he hopes to have a consulting team in place by end of this year and to have a redevelopment plan finished by 2013.

Christos Tsiamis, the EPA Project Manager for the Gowanus, says the EPA clean up process is expected to take place at the same time as the implementation of the Brownfield plan for redevelopment.

“They can develop the land during the cleanup. We just have to make sure that whatever development takes place, it doesn’t adversely affect the clean up,” says Tsiamis.

Joshua S. Verleun, an attorney and chief investigator at Riverkeeper, believes that there’s actually an advantage to putting the cleanups in motion at the same time.

“The land-based cleanup of Brownfields and other contaminated sites and the efforts this grant would help fund are related but separate from superfund,” says Verleun. “In a perfect world all cleanup efforts would move forward together. So I do think that the timing is right for this grant to move ahead.”

In the request for proposals, Friends of Brooklyn Community Board 6 describes their industrial and mixed-use development objectives for the properties along the Gowanus.

“The Brownfield Opportunity Area Grant supports a community based planning process that seeks to re-use and redevelop properties along the Gowanus Canal for industrial use, economic development and/or environmental educational purposes,” states the RFP. “It is the goal of the Friends of Brooklyn Community Board 6, Inc., that this process will influence the economic and industrial growth and environmental remediation of the Gowanus Canal Corridor for years to come.”

The RFP outlines a list of priorities that they would like the consulting team to address in their application, including “expanding green technology design and manufacturing sector” to “promulgating environmental education, open space and waterfront access opportunities.”

The Brownfields planning grant is directed towards the redevelopment of the land on the banks of the canal, but it will also have a significant impact on the EPA’s cleanup plans of the Gowanus.

“EPA looks to zoning and other factors as an indication of the uses for an area that are intended by a community. This in turn has an impact on the degree of cleanup and the methods used– too early for any specifics in this case,” says Verleun.

In the years leading up to the superfund listing, members of the community battled with the Bloomberg administration and private developers over plans for the Gowanus. The city strongly contested the Superfund designation when it was first announced in 2009, and pushed for an alternative plan.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve had developers fly over the Gowanus Canal in helicopters, dividing up the area amongst themselves, unbeknown to the community,” says Kelly. “The fact that the EPA came along gave the community more time to have a say in what the future of what the uplands will be.”

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