Gowanus residents sue to block parole office

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A group of Gowanus neighbors angry about the prospect of sharing sidewalk space with ex-prisoners are taking state parole officers to court.

Gowanus United is planning to sue the state this afternoon for failing to notify residents about its plan to move three Downtown parole offices into one three-story facility at the dead-end of an industrial stretch of Second Avenue beside the Gowanus Canal, a lawyer for the activists said. This paper broke news of the parole plan in July, a year after the state inked a deal with the building’s owners, and representatives for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not speak publicly about the move until a September community meeting. State prison officials have since referred inquiries to the Office of General Services, which is responsible for managing state construction projects.

The communication lag shows the state knew the parole complex would be controversial and tried to hush it up, the lawyer said.

“We now know that DOCCS and OGS did nothing to seek community input for over one year after the lease was entered into for this site,” said Steven Russo in a statement. “It is clear that this conduct was an intentional attempt to fly under the radar and slip the siting of this huge facility past the community.”

Residents have been organizing against the under-construction headquarters at 15 Second Ave., between the canal and Sixth Street, since July. The Bloomberg administration signed off on the move, but Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus), who has railed against it, says he got wind of it the same time as the public.

The lawsuit argues that the two departments not only failed to complete an allegedly required environmental study, but did not even look into whether the assessment was necessary, according to a press release by the group.

It also seeks to override a zoning variance signed in 2013 allowing the building to include fewer parking spaces than would normally be required.

“Common sense alone dictates that DOCCS should have done due diligence, but there are also rules and regulations that haven’t been followed, no traffic or transit studies, no plan to deal with the negative impact on business and resident parking,” said Adine Pusey, a member of Gowanus United, in a statement. “This is not the way government is supposed to operate.”

Russo said the goal of the lawsuit is to mandate an environmental review for the site and to force the state to better engage with the community, should the relocation go forward.

The administrator of the local community board and the leader of a neighborhood pro-business group oppose the parole complex on the grounds that it would degrade protections that designate the area beside the Gowanus Canal for industrial use. But most neighbors speaking against the facility at a September meeting said they were uncomfortable with the prospect of former prisoners walking among them. Pusey attempted to downplay that sentiment in her statement.

“While we have welcomed our share of social services here in Gowanus, and we recognize and support the importance of ex-offender reentry, we are left wondering — why the secrecy, and why the rush to force the site here with no community input?” said Pusey in a statement.

The facility is on track to be completed in January and open in April, prison reps said in September.

A spokeswoman from the Office of General Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
Why should the state consult the community? These people are jokes.

From their website: "There are numerous schools (thousands of kids traveling back and forth), day care centers, pre- and after-school facilities, churches, parks and playgrounds within a half mile radius of the mega-site."

It's as if they just figured out how living in a city works. They're also mad that the site isn't close enough to transit, as if there are going to fewer of those types of facilities close to transit than there are far away from it.

They also keep calling it a "mega-site." When this gets to be mega, that doesn't leave a lot of words left to describe something like the Atlantic Yards.
Nov. 3, 2014, 5:19 pm
So from Gowanus says:
I thought DOCCS was supposed to submit answers to the community's questions to Community Board 6 by the end of last week. I received by email from the community board what DOCCS submitted previously including an environmental assessment which are available at the Community Board 6 website. I don't know whether DOCCS has provided more answers.

No matter where this facility is located there will be backlash.
Nov. 3, 2014, 5:32 pm
Ha from Gowanus says:
Is this lawyer the same Steven Russo that works at the same firm that represented Lightstone? The firm (Greenberg Traurig) is also listed as lobbyists for other Gowanus area projects. At least we know where the real interest lies...
Nov. 3, 2014, 7:19 pm
Mary from 3rd St says:
The opposition isn't the community here, it is the developers.

The developers think they should get their way, and their way only, with state agencies and they bully when they don't get just what they want.
Nothing was hushed here. The site changed City Council District this past year which is why Lander's may not have been involved.

CB6 had also been informed.

Just because Lightstone wasn't notified, doesn't mean no one knew about the facility.
Nov. 3, 2014, 8:39 pm
KC from Bond St says:
So this lawyer, Mr. Russo seeks to override the facilities zoning variance signed in 2013?

How about having the judge look at the special zoning permits Lightstone is building their project under--the special permits which expired in 2013?

Better yet, let's get the judge to override the whole spot rezoning of the Lightstone property!
Nov. 3, 2014, 11:30 pm
BJ from Gowanus says:
Lightstone's project is one not wanted by the Gowanus community.
Nov. 3, 2014, 11:47 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
I for one cant see why a judge would stop this when all of the paperwork & so forth is set. Besides, the building is for a good cause, to help ex-cons re-integrate into society & get their lives back on track.
Nov. 3, 2014, 11:56 pm
Resident from Gowanus says:
"It also seeks to override a zoning variance signed in 2013 allowing the building to include fewer parking spaces than would normally be required."

Wait. So these idiots are suing to ask for MORE parking? They do realize what that will do to traffic, right? What morons.
Nov. 4, 2014, 10:01 am
jjm from c. hill says:
I bet if it was a trader joes showing up unannounced, they wouldnt even make a peep. Just face it, its gonna be the new parole office of BK, whether you like it or not. Im sick of these wannabe NY'ers trying to protest something like this. I think its way better for this to be there where people being released from prison can clean up their lives & be productive, its either that or them mugging your punk arses coming out of whole foods
Nov. 4, 2014, 10:17 am
Irony from Across from Lighstone says:
Not only has "Gowanus United" retained the same law firm as Lightstone, they have also retained Geto & de Milly (Lighstone's PR firm) per an article in another publication. It seems more about luxury developers protecting their immediate and potential future interests than any concern for protecting an IBZ, parking, traffic, distance from public transportation.

When the project on the Lightstone site went from 450 units to over 700 units people requested that they do a supplemental EIS reflecting changes in the community and the difference twice the amount of units would have on parking, traffic, school capacity, public transportation, public safety, etc.
Geto & de Milly fought back hard against this.

Neither Greenberg Traurig nor Geto seems to have had a problem with the same City Planning and mayoral administration when they approved Lightstone's request for a "minor modification" not to mention the questionable spot rezoning for the original Toll Brothers project.
Nov. 4, 2014, 10:31 am
Resident from Gowanus says:
Funny that no one complains about all the traffic generated by the Whole Foods! And instead of asking for more parking spaces, the community got Whole Foods to reduce the number of spots in their lot. More parking = more driving.
Nov. 4, 2014, 10:37 am
jjm from c. hill says:
Im cautiously hopeful that property value in gowanus plummets because of this building. Its freaking crazy how much money they are charging just to live in a normal looking apartment. Hey newbies, there's nothing cool about living in BK when you're struggling to pay your darn rent at the end of the month. Try talking that cool BS to a single mom with 2 kids scraping to get by ever since you showed up around the way & see what she says.
Nov. 4, 2014, 11:35 am
bug from leaf says:
Last night, as I was enjoying observing the ripples of our Superfund Creek Newtown, from the edge of Manhattan Ave Streetend Park, some of the tough guys from either the halfway house or shelter were also out taking in the cool air. Cursing they were making proclamations... "My 3 addictions are money, weed and ——." This morning there were a host of other tough guys, one of whom said something about turning the berries from the bush into jam, though was hesitant because he had heard the Creek was poison. I kid you not.

I live next door to a self-proclaimed rapist who will most likely never be convicted. So it's complicated. Street smarts help.
Nov. 4, 2014, 11:49 am
bug from leaf says:
You know that Minor Threat song... 'sometimes good guys don't wear white'

Well, sometimes they don't wear black either.
Nov. 4, 2014, 12:16 pm
caterpillar from rock says:
The Standells
Nov. 4, 2014, 12:35 pm
brooklynmkr from Gowanus says:
This facility is being placed in an IBZ (Industrial Business Zone), in 2005 Mayor Bloomberg stated the following : "Today, we are launching a comprehensive industrial policy that involves designing new business zones and creating new incentives to encourage long-term investment in manufacturing, warehousing and other industrial businesses throughout the five boroughs."

Years ago, as a manufacturer, we made a commitment to Brooklyn and our employees to move here in the IBZ. We felt the IBZ would help protect businesses and their workers. It is hard enough to manufacture in NYC as it is and now this State Facility will make it harder. This is not a question about current residential, or future development, it is about NY State placing a non-industrial business, in an area that is meant to CREATE JOBS. All the while having no plan to improve the subpar infrastructure around the facility, an area that is already plagued by sewage problems, poor phone and electrical services, and of course traffic. (Let’s not forget that most of the businesses in this area were devastated by Super Storm Sandy and are still trying to get back on their feet, and nothing has been done to remedy that from happening in this area again.)

This facility will neither create jobs nor help grow industrial businesses.
Nov. 5, 2014, 9:24 am
Mike from Maspeth says:
But there is nothing in the IBZ setup that forbids an owner of a building from making a living! If they can demonstrate that no industrial use has tried to enter into a lease, but another semi-industrial use (which a parole center is categorized as) they can apply for a variance, which cannot be reasonably denied. And that's exactly what happened, according to all concerned.

You people don't want a man to make a living off his property, then buy him out and YOU take on the tax burden! And stop saying that you're only concerned about "The children! The children!" This is about your prejudices and dreamy property values. Disgusting.
Nov. 5, 2014, 11:46 am
boogieman from Industrial Gowanus says:
To Mike from Maspeth,

The issue here is that the developers like Lightstone want to by out these property owners. But then these big developers make deals with the politicians they help to get elected, and those politicians in turn give the developers major tax breaks. Lightstone's 700 unit development already has a 25 year tax break.

The developers are behind this action, they have created (with the help of a major PR firm) a sense of fear where there was none. The developers are taking this legal action to protect the Gowanus Industrial district form the boogieman they have created.
Nov. 5, 2014, 2:58 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
jjm, "Im cautiously hopeful that property value in gowanus plummets because of this building." That logic is unassailable, in a cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face kind of way. Let's carry that forward to other projects we can invite to the area to render the place an unlivable hell-hole. How about a nuclear waste facility? A rendering plant? Maybe a fracking operation? That way, you can be robbed, beaten, poisoned, gagged, and irradiated without leaving a 2 block radius, but GOOD NEWS! You'll be the only one for miles.
Nov. 6, 2014, 10:56 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
The upside-down logic of the posters here so far is amazing. Given the choice between a development that will bring more housing and urban renewal to the area and a huge facility that will bring hundreds and hundreds of the most violent, most likely to re-offend felons in NYC (according to a 2008 study by the Center for Court Innovation) to the neighborhood every day, you choose the felons. Because of course. That's if we accept that false dichotomy, which naturally we don't have to. It's possible to oppose both things without any contradiction, or to oppose the parole center and support Lightstone's plans without any contradiction. If Lightstone wants to help stop the parole center, that's good news. The State DOCCS has done everything it can to slip this through under the radar, and the hour is late; so the clout developers can bring will help a lot.
Nov. 6, 2014, 11:05 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
Downtown, where the parole centers have previously been, remains the logical location for this facility, as Borough President Eric Adams has said. All subway lines in the borough converge there, as do many bus routes. So transportation is easy. With the presence of the courts and jail, there is plenty of police presence there to ensure public safety. The residential aspect of that area, though changing a little on the edges, remains light. As in, not in the middle of a dozen schools, preschools, and after-school programs. Putting the parole center at this site is like dropping a neutron bomb on Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Red Hook, and Gowanus.
Nov. 6, 2014, 11:36 am

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