Gowanus Brooklyn Curious Canal

Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal is Joseph Alexiou’s ode to one of New York’s filthiest waterways. The history buff’s forthcoming book details over 300 years of Gowanus history, from marshland to high rise.

Brownstoner talked with Alexiou about the origins of his love for the polluted canal, and historic parallels between today’s Brooklyn and that of a century ago. (more…)


A toxic ghost from Brooklyn’s industrial past is being met not with an artisan makeover, but removal by National Grid. Cleanup of the empty lot at 50 Kent Avenue, which hosts Brooklyn Flea and various outdoor music shows, will start soon, according to a notice posted this month from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In addition to various music and culture fests, the lot has also been hosting soil contaminated by coal-tar. A designated state Superfund site owned by the Parks Department, the waterfront venue may be considered a mainstay of North Brooklyn culture, but from 1850 to 1930 it was home to the Williamsburg Works Manufactured Gas Plant, according to DNAinfo.


harte and co factory 280 franklin street greenpoint 52014

The distinctive curved facade on the polluted Harte & Company factory in Greenpoint could survive, an owner’s rep told the Brooklyn Eagle. But the 1930s Arte Moderne factory at 280 Franklin Street is still going to become apartments, likely a multi-building complex.

Yi Han of Experta Group said she’s working with the architects to save some piece of the unique corner, because “very few places in New York have that. It’s like a witness to the transformation of the neighborhood.” (more…)


Developer Sam Boymelgreen last week filed permits for a 162-room hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus. The building will not be new, but rather an enlargement of the four-story factory to seven stories. The density (square footage) will remain the same, according to New York YIMBY, which first reported on the plans.

Boymelgreen does not own the property but rather has a 49-year lease, as we reported previously. In February, a story in The Real Deal about Boymelgreen’s Windsor Terrace development The Kestrel noted 255 Butler Street would be a hotel or office. Not quite a decade ago, the city refused a variance that would have permitted the owner to convert the property to residential.

On the first floor will be stores, a restaurant, coffee shop, terrace, gym, library and event space, according to the application. Rooms will be located on the second through seventh floors, with another restaurant, a pool and terrace on the fifth floor. The applicant of record is SBLM Architects.

Also, the site, an old printing plant, is contaminated. We’re not sure if this alteration requires a brownfield cleanup.

Plans to rezone the area were put on hold pending the EPA cleanup but could be revived following a year-long series of public meetings about the future of Gowanus in which residents said they did not want tall buildings but the report said they did.

Hotels are a popular type of development in industrial areas where residential development is not permitted. In an effort to preserve factory jobs and the character of industrial neighborhoods, the City Council recently recommended a change to city’s factory zoning that would not permit hotels.

Permits Filed: 162-Key Hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus [NYY]
255 Butler Coverage [Brownstoner]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

gowanus canal 12014 copy

Will Gowanus be the next Dumbo? A story in the Times over the weekend suggests yes. The fact that it is home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the country has not deterred development there. The story gives an overview of all the development happening there, which will be familiar to Brownstoner readers, including the 700-unit rental project Lightstone Group is building and the condo development at 345 Carroll Street, as well as all the retail that has opened lately, such as Whole Foods and Ample Hills.

Two interesting factoids: Councilmember Brad Lander is working to change the zoning of the area from industrial to mixed-use, which would mean more housing could be built. And Gowanus Green, Hudson Companies’ affordable 774-unit development on 5th Street, is “stalled until the site’s former owner, National Grid, completes a voluntary environmental cleanup.”

Gowanus Is Counting on a Cleanup [NY Times]

double d pool park slope patch

The EPA has been warning since 2012 that the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup might require digging up Gowanus’ only public park and swimming pool to install tanks to catch overflow sewage. That scenario is looking more likely — and neighbors are not pleased — following an announcement Tuesday by the City’s Department of Environmental Protection that it has narrowed the list of possible sites for the sewage tanks to just two. Those are Thomas Greene Park and Double D Pool or the “salt lot” on 2nd Avenue and 5th Street next to the Gowanus Canal.

The Friends of Douglass Greene Park issued a statement today, not its first, against the siting of the tanks in the park and is again circulating its petition to save the pool. But if the EPA does decide to dig up the public space, the community group demands a “seamless transition” to park and pool facilities somewhere nearby.

Photo by Park Slope Patch


In a major turn of events for the Gowanus area, Lightstone has agreed to spend $20,000,000 helping to clean up its corner of polluted Gowanus, the EPA announced yesterday. Since the developer broke ground on its controversial 700-unit apartment complex at 363-365 Bond Street, neighbors have complained of “petroleum waste” fumes that reportedly cause “light-headededness, nausea and dizziness,” according to the blog Gowanus Your Face Off.

Part of the remediation includes the removal of 17,500 cubic yards of polluted soil, DNAinfo was the first to report. Crews have already been replacing contaminated soil with fresh soil and gravel at 365 Bond Street, above, but whenever they stir up the existing soil, fumes are released, according to Gowanus Your Face Off.

The construction site was once home to dry cleaners, oil terminals, warehouses and factories, which spewed suspected carcinogens such as heavy metals and PCBs into the soil. Another part of the agreement is that Lightstone will work with the EPA on a sewage and stormwater plan so future flooding will not release contaminants.

Lightstone agreed to the cleanup in exchange for the EPA promising not to sue the company in the future for any additional cleanup work — or impact from the development on the canal (or vice versa), the EPA press release said. So if the development, perhaps combined with another flood, somehow spreads around more toxic waste, Lightstone won’t be liable.

Do you think that’s fair? Public comment on the agreement will be taken until October 8.

Photo by GYFO


A larger than anticipated crowd of over 200 people showed up to discuss their concerns and wishes and help plan the future of Gowanus development Monday night at The Children’s School on Carroll Street. The meeting was the first of a series of public planning forums called Bridging Gowanus convened by local politicians about the ongoing development of and cleanup plan for Gowanus. The Pratt Center for Community Development moderated and presented findings from previous invitation-only meetings held over the summer.

City Council Member Brad Lander remarked that with the EPA’s Record of Decision for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site and the impending transition at City Hall, it’s an important moment for the community to come together and establish a shared vision for the infrastructure of the low-lying and industrially polluted Gowanus area before planning begins. The consensus of the crowd was that every effort should be made to preserve the area’s socioeconomic diversity and keep it affordable for the mixed uses (manufacturing, residential, commercial, artistic) that currently exist. A number of local artists in attendance expressed fears of gentrification and said they felt threatened by the diminishing affordability of studio space. In brief, locals called for a rezoning to preserve affordability and Gowanus’ eclectic identity as a community with vibrant street life and activity.

Other issues raised included the need for a permanent protection plan against coastal disasters; it was noted that the current recovery infrastructure is insufficient to handle even regular rain. The group also said another priority is more schools and suitable health care facilities to accommodate the area’s growing residential population. They would also like the canal to be opened up as a recreational public waterway.

A series of followup meetings will be held early in 2014. In the meantime, anyone interested in joining a working group can contact info@BridgingGowanus.org.

Gowanus Residents Meeting to Create Development Plan [Brownstoner]

Two kayaking teams from Red Hook and Gowanus will go head to head in what they are terming the first “regatta” to take place on the polluted Gowanus canal, reported The New York Daily News. “This is the first race where the entire course, and the ensuing awards banquet will be held completely on a U.S.-government sanctioned Superfund site,” said Owen Foote, a member of the team the Gowanus Dredgers. The Dredgers will face off with the Red Hook Boaters June 15. Each group plans to raise $500 to help underwrite the Dredgers’ educational program about New York City waterways.
Gowanus Canal to Host Its First Regatta in June [NY Daily News]

Local activists are overjoyed the federally mandated cleanup of the Gowanus Canal will include not only chemical pollutants from its years as an industrial waterway but also the biohazardous overflow from city sewers during storms. The Brooklyn Paper has reported more details on just exactly how that will be accomplished: With two giant catch basins costing $78 million each buried underground at the head of the canal near Butler Street and in the middle of the canal near Third Street. Interestingly, one of the chemical pollutants in the canal is coal tar, a byproduct of the days when manufactured gas plants lined the canal’s banks. National Grid has inherited responsibility for some of that, and is one of three dozen industrial polluters who will help pay for the cleanup. As for the proposed sewer overflow tanks, they will hold up to eight million gallons of raw sewage during storms, then send the glop to wastewater treatment plants in Red Hook and Bay Ridge. As a result, discharges of raw sewage into the canal should be reduced by about 58 to 74 percent, the Feds estimate. “We have been trying to get the city to do something about the [sewer] pollution forever,” the Brooklyn Paper quoted Linda Mariano, co-founder of Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus, as saying. “It’s a very good thing that they are going to make the effort. That’s what we have been advocating for, for all of these years — I’m happy.”
Feds Force City to Keep Sewage Out of Gowanus [Brooklyn Paper]
EPA Unveils Cleanup Plan for Gowanus [Brownstoner]
Photo by juliandunn

Yesterday, the EPA revealed its plan for the Gowanus Canal: Dredge it, scrape up the toxic sludge, and bind the goo with sand or concrete. In addition, the plan calls for diverting raw sewage into overflow tanks until the City’s water treatment plants can handle it. The price tag is estimated at $467 million to $504 million, with cleanup completed in 2020. The public review process starts now: Two public meetings are set for Jan. 23 and 24; public and written comments will be accepted through March 28.
A Price Tag for the Gowanus Cleanup [NY Times]
EPA Looks to Spend $500M Cleaning up Gowanus Canal [NY Post]
EPA to Release Plan for Gowanus Cleanup [Brownstoner]
Photo by Genial23

DNAinfo reports on the surprising proposal of Brooklyn concrete magnate John Quadrozzi, who wants to transfer the toxic sludge removed from the Gowanus Canal to the Gowanus Bay in Red Hook to expand the shipping terminal he owns. The idea is that a larger, extended terminal will accomodate larger ships. Apparently the lowest-level contaminants from the Gowanus would be mixed with a concrete-like stabilizing material that would make it safe to use as landfill. Details on the cost, environmental issues, the legality of expanding the terminal, and what the EPA thinks are all pretty murky, so to speak. But as DNAinfo notes, “The canal’s designation as a Superfund site… grants the EPA broad powers that could permit it to simply give Quadrozzi the green light to create more property at the Gowanus Bay Terminal with the sludge and money that the EPA itself would be providing.” Quadrozzi also said he’d create a maritime museum at a ship that’s docked at the terminal.
Developer Seeks to Use Toxic Sludge as Landfill to Expand Brooklyn [DNAinfo]
Photo by Jim in Times Square