‘Boots on the ground’ at the canal - Wrangling over Gowanus development in high gear

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Officials last week gathered along the banks of the Gowanus Canal, anticipating the significant changes in store for this once gritty neighborhood abutting the long polluted waterway.

Change though, is already afoot.

Private developer Toll Brothers is planning a development on two blocks near the canal, and Public Place, a massive city-owned site along the canal, is in store for a housing/retail/park complex called Gowanus Green.

The hope, according to City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who hosted the meeting, is to tackle any and all issues early on, before the shovels are in the ground.

“The more democracy, the better it will be,” he said.

The May 7 al fresco event was attended by representatives from city, state, and federal agencies.

The city lawmaker said he’s planning a series of town hall style meetings in the coming months, focusing on all aspects of development near the canal.

He said “key players” will be invited to attend the upcoming meetings.

“It’s an appetizer for something much bigger,” de Blasio said.

A range of issues surround future development near the canal, including whether local infrastructure will keep pace with new developments, and the timetable for the cleaning up the canal, still considered one of the most polluted waterways in the country.

Mark Lanaghan, an assistant commissioner with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection said the city is set to embark on a $200 million upgrade to the canal, including major improvements to its flushing tunnel and pumping station, two elements critical to a cleaner waterway.

“It will make a big change in water quality,” he said.

Even after the work is completed, the water will not be safe for swimming, officials have said.

The city’s work is expected to be completed by 2012, and afterwards, the United States Army Corps of Engineers will perform a limited amount of dredging, removing contaminated sediment, according to Karen Ashton of the Corps.

As far as Fire Department Battalion Chief John Polly is concerned, new development won’t impact how he does his job.

“From a broad perspective, I don’t see that being a problem,” he said.

“To be honest, if there is a fire, we’re going to put it out,” Polly said. “That’s how you have to think—whether it’s a high rise or not, my guys give 110 percent.”

Deputy Inspector Michael Kemper echoed Polly’s sentiment.

“Like the FDNY, we adapt to changes. If we need more manpower, obviously, we get it.”

The path—and shape—new construction may take will be discussed at a meeting later this month.

Last year, the Department of City Planning hosted a series of meetings in which residents and interested parties were asked to help guide the creation of a framework to guide future development along the canal might take.

The framework, which will direct an anticipated rezoning, calls for a mix of uses, including industrial affordable housing, open space, and some commercial activities where viable.

City Planning will provide an update on its rezoning scheme for the area on May 29 at PS 32, 317 Hoyt Street at 6 p.m.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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