Gowanus: Sunk or Saved?

East
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
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The shores of the Gowanus are, for better or worse, likely to remain undeveloped for years to come (sahocevar/Flickr)

The Environmental Protection Agency balked at the Bloomberg administration’s controversial proposal to clean up the Gowanus Canal, favoring its own Superfund program in an announcement today, as had been expected. In a statement, regional administrator Judith Enck said  that, after much consultation with concerned parties, the EPA “determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway.” The Bloomberg administration opposed the designation for fear it would stigmatize the waterway and drive off developers who were planning projects on the polluted canal’s shores.

A pipe oxygenates the water in the canal to help clean it. (beau-dog/Flickr)

Lo-and-behold, Toll Brothers, which had been planning a 2,000-unit mixed-use complex designed by GreenbergFarrow, has already nixed its plans. We also hear from a source that the Gowanus Green project by Rogers Marvel on a city-owned site is also on hold until it can shore up lending, assuming it can. As for the proposed rezoning, no word yet from the Department of City Planning, which had also been awaiting the Superfund decision before it proceeded. Marc LaVorgna, an administration spokesperson, called the EPA’s decision “disappointing,” though he did say that the city would still aid in the clean-up efforts. “We are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal—a clean canal,” he said.

It appears the mayor was right about the threat Superfund designation posed to development on the canal, though the question of whether such projects should have taken place anyway, given even the possibility of Superfund levels of contamination, also has been answered.

UPDATE: Looks like City Planning will be holding off for the time being, as we suspected. Here’s the explanation we just received from spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff:

We’ve just gotten the news and we’re continuing to work on understanding the impacts of the designation on the potential for moving forward with a rezoning to facilitate appropriate development and remediation. Clearly, the Superfund designation adds a layer of additional complexity (and uncertainty) to an already very complex process.

UPDATE 2: Curbed has word from the folks at Gowanus Green that they have yet to give up on their project, though they do acknowledge that it will be more challenging.

One Response to “Gowanus: Sunk or Saved?”

  1. Paul in Westwood says:

    I’ve followed this tortuous trail towards designation with some amazement. The idea that any developers were considering building on an open sewer was shocking enough, but the lies the Bloomberg administration trotted out to support their “development at all costs” should be prosecuted. We all want to build, but I feel the profession has a few moral responsibilities, or we are just as we are often painted: children with giant legos. Architecture is supposed to serve a public purpose, not just egotists and capitalists. In New York City, Miami, Dubai…the list of brilliantly mindless, irresponsible design continues to grow, as does the both the public cost and the erosion of public trust in the profession.

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