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Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal area proposed for massive affordable housing community

Renderings offer look at new affordable housing community proposed along Gowanus Canal
Renderings offer look at new affordable housing community proposed along Gowanus Canal 02:58

NEW YORK -- Hammering and the hum of heavy machinery hang in the air on the Gowanus waterfront. It's living proof of the change that is taking place in this neighborhood daily. A massive construction boom is underway.

"There's no displacement of low- and moderate-income folks of color," explained Michelle de la Uz, executive director of Fifth Avenue Committee, a nonprofit that is part of a team of developers working on Gowanus Green, a large, fully affordable community that will include six buildings with almost 1,000 apartments, a new public school, and a waterfront park.

"There is a solution to our affordable housing crisis. And it really is about building and preserving affordable housing, and, quite honestly, deeply affordable housing at scale. And Gowanus Green will help us do that," she said from a neighboring building overlooking the empty land which will eventually become the development.

But from the ground, it's not so simple. The site is on highly polluted land, the former home of a gas plant that operated for nearly a century. It was eventually acquired by National Grid. Pollution sits more than 100 feet deep and the parcel is part of New York State's Brownfield program, which requires cleanup of polluted sites before development.

"I do not think at all that it is appropriate to develop here," said Joseph Alexiou, Gowanus historian and author. "And I have run the risk of looking like one of these anti-development people by saying that."

Alexiou joins a group of vocal activists who have been speaking out against the rezoning for years. He said an incomplete cleanup can mean health problems for future residents.

"Do you want to be responsible for finding out that only removing 1/15th, you know, or less than a quarter of the pollution in this area led to the release of toxic gases that over time gave people cancer?" he said.

Plans to overcome Gowanus Canal's troubled history

For decades, the banks of the Gowanus were home to a large industrial hub. That is, until a historic rezoning caught the attention of developers.

The rezoning was approved in 2021 and includes 82 blocks of this neighborhood. Residents say this has already led to a massive transformation of their community with many multi-story developments sprouting along the waterfront.

National Grid, which is the responsible party for the cleanup, said it completed the state approved remediation plan in 2022.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said, to date, the cleanup included removing 80,000 tons of polluted soil, treating more than a million gallons of groundwater, and removing more than 48,000 gallons of coal tar.

But in March, the NYSDEC requested additional work to address the remaining contamination, so there is an ongoing dispute about the extent of additional work.

This leaves developers of Gowanus Green waiting for a resolution and a green light to begin construction.

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