Let's Put People Over Profits in Gowanus!

The Gowanus Rezone is an Environmental Disaster In the Making

In November 2021, the City approved an 82 block rezone of Gowanus, sweeping major environmental issues under the rug.

The Rezone:

  • Will Put People on Highly Poisonous Land
  • Will Make Sewage Problems Worse
  • Ignores the Realities of Climate Change
  • Endangers the Clean Up

The Rezone Will Put People on Poisonous Land

Photo © NYC Municipal Archives

For over 100 years, Gowanus and adjacent neighborhoods were home to gas plants that produced manufactured gas from coal to do everything that we now use natural gas for today. The process left behind a nasty and profoundly dangerous by-product, coal tar. Over time, the putrid and poisonous tar, seeped into the ground and water, blanketing the bottom of the canal. On adjoining land the coal tar goes down far below the surface, where the viscous chemicals continue to ooze, bubble, and spread in all directions, threatening area homes and businesses.

Everyone in New York City understands that we need more permanent, truly affordable apartments but no housing should be put on “Public Place,” which is located along Smith street and is visible as the F train travels above ground.

The former manufactured gas sites land survey show deposits of coal tar and other toxic materials to depths of 150 feet. This is the area where the City plans to put the most deeply affordable housing.

Even though these toxins are far below the surface, the vapors continue to off gas. Buildings built there will capture those vapors, putting anyone living above it at serious risk. This damage done a century ago will remain in perpetuity. The poisoned land is utterly unfit for human habitation.

Here’s a great piece in the Guardian about Gowanus coal tar.

Sick yet? Take Action.

The Gowanus Canal is Already Drowning in Sewage. The Rezone Will Make that Worse

New York City has used the Gowanus Canal as an open sewer during heavy rains for more than a century. Even now, heavy rains send raw sewage from Park Slope down into the canal, and have resulted in disgusting sewer back-ups that have caused serious damage to many of our neighbor’s basements.

The City has been legally ordered by the EPA to build two combined sewer retention tanks along the canal to alleviate this gross and unsanitary situation. The projected completion date for the first tank is 2029, but even when it’s built, the solution did not take into account the 20,000+ additional residents that the rezone would bring to the area.

You’ve seen your toilet overflow but have you seen a whole system?

The Rezone Ignores The Dangers of Climate Change

Much of the rezoned Gowanus is in a FEMA Flood Zone A. The area is regularly impacted by flood waters, and Global Warming and sea level rise will only make these problems worse. At a time when we should be retreating from flood zones and implementing preparedness measures, the City is increasing density in this fragile lowland.

Developers love to market the rezone as Venice-like Utopia but guess what, Venice is sinking. We must wake up because if we don’t act now, the sea level rise will flush the deeper pockets of toxic material to the surface, washing it deeper inland, and making even recreational use of the land, dangerous.

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Turning a blind eye, our elected officials pushed forward their plan to make the 82 blocks surrounding the canal a high rise residential area. Heavily influenced by eager developers, these flood prone lowlands are now zoned to bring more than 20,000 new residents into an area that is on the front line of climate change. The city’s climate preparedness plans are a mess. Are you ready to join the fight?

The Rezone Endangers the Superfund Clean up

Dredging the top layer and capping the rest.

Twelve years ago, Gowanus neighbors fought the Bloomberg and DeBlasio administrations to get the polluted Gowanus Canal listed to the EPA’s Federal Superfund Clean-up Program. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. Today, the dredging process is underway but it is expected to take another 10 years to finish. That’s no surprise, as the coal tar in the Gowanus Canal is 10–20' deep.

Despite this timeline, in November 2021, the City Council passed a rezoning plan based on faulty information. At the core of the issue is an inadequate Environmental Impact Study that failed to disclose compliance violations and failed to follow basic procedures.

This Sequence of Events is Wrong

We can’t build before we know what this fragile environment can sustain. The City must redo their flawed Environmental Impact Study in order to truly understand the impact of the massive development they are proposing–one that takes land toxicity, climate change, sewage issues, and the effects on the canal cleanup into account — just as the law requires.

If they do not do this, they are putting both current and future residents at great risk, and are perpetuating environmental wrongs. This is why Voice of Gowanus is taking the city to court. And this is why Voice of Gowanus Needs Your Voice!

To learn the baseline of what should be taking place, click here.

Voice of Gowanus Needs Your Voice

Our politicians and government agencies from local to federal have willfully and repeatedly ignored important environmental laws in pushing their rezoning. Safeguards and procedures meant to keep current and future residents healthy and safe have been flouted by the city in favor of developers eager to cash in.

And that’s why, on this earth day, we are asking for your help. For your voice. To stand up for what’s right. To push back against our city and demand a forward-thinking climate resiliency plan. To forgive our forefathers and to help our children and their futures. And to say, we can and we will try to leave this world better than it was left for us!

And if you have the means, please support our lawsuit to stop this illegal rezoning. Please contribute to our defense fund so that we can fight our elected officials and put people over profit.