Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street, Carroll Gardens
Presentation from Alloy Development
Alloy, a Brooklyn developer, has recently moved into Gowanus with several projects, including a new headquarters. Alloy has partnered with the owners of the Canal-adjacent properties currently under consideration as a potential site for the CSO retention tanks. Alloy is presenting a program for the site that allows the property owners to retain development and ownership rights to some of the land while allowing for public access and parkland. They want to encourage the selection of the site for the retention tanks.
Summary of the Alloy Presentation
- Project Goals: Timely cleanup, cost effectiveness, preserve and enhance park space, promote job creation and economic development
- 234 Butler: As-of-right commercial development
- The lot at these sites could contain 104,000 square feet of space, but the large floor plate is not conducive to current standards for developing office space.
- Alloy proposes two buildings at either end of the site, and a donation of the middle section as public space.
- Alloy has signed agreements with 232 and 244 Butler to donate parkland to avoid eminent domain.
- Repositioning the building mass within the area that already exists to accommodate public space and the head house.
- Donating this land is estimated to save ~$100 million and 3 to 5 years by avoiding the use of eminent domain for the tank site
- The proposed development will generate taxes and revenue, and local jobs – estimated 800 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs
- Provides both temporary and permanent park space
- Two diverging scenarios:
- DEP proposal places head house at top of Butler
- Most sensitive location based on sewer outfall
- Added benefit of creating more space
- EPA proposal places the tank in the park
- A donation of parkland offers flexibility for programming head house
- Addition of head house does not mean loss of park space
- Resources available to develop more creative design
- DEP proposal places head house at top of Butler
Questions and Answers
CAG Member: How does the leasing work?
Alloy: It is a 99-year lease, but the owners would permanently donate the land, with a legal agreement, in exchange for the tanks not being sited on the land, and no use of Eminent Domain. We’re arguing in favor of design solutions rather than eminent domain.
CAG Member: It sounds too good to be true, is it?
Alloy: You are right to be skeptical. We are a development company, and we will make money from this transaction, but we are moving our office here, to 316 Carroll, which is already in the works, and we have a vested interest in the neighborhood. We hope over time that you will get to know us and develop trust in us. The brilliance of this proposal is that eventually the city will have free ownership of the land.
CAG Member: When you show the donated land and you have the same FAR in the two buildings, what is the maximum height?
Alloy: That depends on the amount of donation needed, as it is not yet understood what it will be (ultimately related to size of head house). It’s expected to be contextual with surrounding buildings. If the City wants a more aggressive tank option, that might squeeze the floor plate and therefore yield a higher building, but because the buildings don’t pursue higher floors (don’t need views, just bulk), it is unlikely to be that much higher.
CAG Member: How hard is it to donate land to the Parks Department?
Alloy: It could be very simple but depends largely on the people involved. There are no restrictions other than preservation of our development capacity and easements required for the buildings to be functional.
CAG Member: Is the land proposed for the park a brownfield?
CAG Member: What if Parks doesn’t have the money to accept and develop new parkland?
Alloy: If there is a budget to acquire the sites at all, then there ought to be a budget to create the park. There is a creative option to use tax revenue to support the development of the park.
CAG Member: Are you picking up the cost of the brownfield? Where do the jobs come from?
Alloy: We plan on entering the BCP for our own development, and depending on how the tax credits fall, we are prepared to do what’s needed to develop the project. If the city needs something from us in order to build the project, it is open to discussion. The jobs come from the use of the office space.
CAG Member: Where is 242 Nevins in this, and how is this proposal with both parcels financially viable?
Alloy: We have agreements from both land owners to donate real property in exchange for avoiding eminent domain. We do not have development contracts with both neighbors. Alloy has a 99-year lease to create total viable revenue for the long term. We expect additional dollars in commercial development (renters rent everything – hallways, elevators, etc. are captured in revenue). It’s either going to be surface parking or a park space, which will yield higher rents.
CAG Member: When you say office space do you mean light manufacturing? Will these be compatible with nearby residences?
Alloy: That depends on what you mean. It could be anything from Kickstarter companies, to design or engineering firms, or artists. It is an M district (zoned for manufacturing). We will not be encouraging dry cleaners to come into the area. We are going to pay to clean it up so we aren’t interested in any use that will be re-polluting.
CAG Member: What do you see for parking for the new people in the building? It is increasingly difficult to park here.
Alloy: We have to do a certain amount of excavation in the cleanup of the site, and we are hoping to create a whole new bathtub for that in which parking will happen below the buildings within the footprint of the development. We will look at the right development for that.
CAG Member: Does “maintain 40 foot setback along the Canal” mean public access?
Alloy: Yes, it is required by basic zoning.
CAG Member: What about affordable housing?
Alloy: We have responded to NYCHA RFPs for the Ingersoll houses. We are interested in responding to new RFPs and agree that there’s an affordable-housing need in the area. We have a company deliberately dedicated to pursuing this project.
CAG Member: You said you want to be part of the community. When you start building are you planning on having jobs for people that are right here in Gowanus? Will there be priority for local residents?
Alloy: Alloy is dependent on a commercial development program (maintains current taxes, does not inflate them) that requires a local preference for construction and minority and women contractors/subcontractors. We do not get the tax benefit if we don’t meet these goals. We would have to reach out to the local community for this. We would have a process including advertisement, local partnerships, application reviews, etc. Local partners can help with job training, awareness, and ensure that we get what we’re looking for. We intend to engage with local residents (NYCHA specifically) to help build our buildings and park spaces, and we believe that they will help make the place more vibrant. We will need your help to engage.
CAG Member: The area is a very underserved by public transportation and there are problems with the subways. I would encourage you to incorporate a transportation element in your design with parking, city bikes, etc.
Alloy: We will take that into consideration, this is a great opportunity for us to hear your concerns.
CAG Member: Based on your perspective right now, what is the biggest obstacle or largest question preventing you from moving forward and how can we be helpful?
Alloy: The biggest obstacle is lack of transparency and communication. The best way to help is to engage with local elected officials, voice your concerns, and act. Right now we don’t have a seat at the table and given the sheer number of constituents we don’t know the right people to talk to.
CAG Member: How can temporary park space be donated if the area is going to be remediated as well? Would you consider the donated location for the head house as well? I’m concerned that the temporary space won’t be workable as a park given the need to remediate.
Alloy: There is a staging and timing issue. It depends on where the conduits for DEP go, where the head house goes, etc. There is flexibility because there is no definitive plan.
CAG Member: How many workers will be in the new places? Do you have as-of-right?
Alloy: 2,000 workers in 200,000 square feet of space. Yes we have as of right; no impediments to development.
CAG Member: Why can’t the City use the Nevins Street property for a head house?
CAG Member: Our major concern is with delays in cleanup of the canal.
Property Owners: We believe eminent domain will be costly and time-consuming and will delay the project. Our plan will reduce this blockage.
CAG Member: Glad to see the owners here. Why did it take you this long to present yourself to the community and why do you like Gowanus so much?
Property Owners: It has taken us a long time to acquire things; all of our relationships have come from building relationships, it can take four to six or seven years to develop those relationships. Sal and Lena have had time to learn about Alloy. The long-term viability of the partnership is crucial to the success of these people’s estates, etc. We look for areas that are idiosyncratic. We have a permanent and vested interest in taking care of NYC.
Dan Wiley (representative of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez): In talking with City Planning and others, they don’t understand how you get a return developing only the FAR of 2 with the waterfront-zoning requirements. How does this pencil out?
Alloy: Not every development company is so bottom-line driven. This is not a philanthropic endeavor, but we are talking about economic returns over the long run.
CAG member: The CAG has a significant advisory position, but we cannot make any calls on it until we know more details.
Response from NYC Parks Department & DEP
Kevin Clarke, Portfolio Manager, DEP
- We share Alloy’s values; everyone wants the best and most thorough cleanup
- Parks and DEP want to ensure there is no reduction in the current footprint of Thomas Greene Park.
- There is tremendous opportunity to provide open space for this community. However, there are fundamental issues with this proposal and with placing the tanks in the park.
- Interruption and bifurcation of public space and park programming
- The head house requires a 30,000 square foot footprint; the donation is 57,000 sf; 185,000 sf total
- When you subtract head house square footage from total park area (the park plus the new donation) the donation portion is only marginal
- If there is a head house on the park, it will be about 50 feet tall
- DEP proposal keeps the park fully intact; larger acquisition of open space when the lots along the Canal are acquired via eminent domain; this is an additional 57,000 square feet of space, 185,000 square feet total.
- There’s an opportunity to completely rethink the park during and after the remediation performed by National Grid
- Keeping the head house out of the park will reduce the amount of time needed to clean the park, and provide temporary space; it’s a four-year disruption vs eight- to 10-year disruption with tanks under the park.
- Here’s how a head house operates:
- Below grade, the flow enters the site and when the pumping station hits capacity, the flow automatically enters the tank facility. Screens will separate solids and raking mechanisms will remove solids from the screens. The flow enters a tank and fills different bays sequentially. Isolating bays reduce the amount of cleaning necessary
- When storms exceed the capacity of the tank, this overflow will go into the canal. The overflow will have been filtered at the upstream end and through a finer screen at the downstream end
- Following a wet weather event, pumps will pump the tank water to the wastewater plant in Red Hook
- The facility has ductwork for an odor control system. Electrical equipment, conveyer facilities, and ductwork all need to be above ground
- The first CSO facility was built in 1971 at Spring Creek. Lessons from the design and operation of older facilities are included in this design
Eric Landau, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Public Affairs & Communications, DEP
- The Alloy proposal is worth consideration, but the city has continuing concerns about siting the tanks under the park
- We believe that our recommendation gives the community the biggest cleanup possible
- Thomas Greene Park and the head-end site would be cleaned simultaneously
- Creates lots of opportunity for additional green space
- We are sensitive to historic distrust of city handling of the Gowanus cleanup
- Siting the tanks next to the current infrastructure is the most operationally efficient method.
General Counsel’s Office, DEP
- The City has the power to acquire property and negotiate sale.
- On average, without litigation, it takes one year to complete eminent domain action.
- With litigation, which has two opportunities before title vests, the landowner can say that the City doesn’t have the right to take the property. The challenge goes to the appellate division first, not the trial division. The condemnation process is more expeditious, and therefore goes right to the appellate.
- The second option is in trial court; the range for the process is 1-3 years, but there is a two-year FEIS to prove that the eminent domain action has public purpose. The track record is 1 to 3.5 years.
- EPA has taken the position that the Superfund statute would supercede local law, and there would not be strict compliance with local law including land use and environmental review. However, it doesn’t mean that these considerations would not be taken into account.
Questions and Answers
CAG Member: What about noise at a facility without a head house? What about not getting 2,000 new jobs? Can solids from the head house be barged out?
Clarke: It’s not necessarily efficient, but the head house likely will not produce significant new traffic, probably one truckload per storm.
CAG Member: Does this still mean eminent domain?
Clarke: The city proposal requires acquisition of block 425 as a staging area if we site the tanks, no matter what.
CAG Member: Why do we have to keep delaying the project? Why is the city ignoring opportunities presented by the Superfund and Alloy’s proposal?
Landau: I understand that there is a history of previous administrations delaying.
CAG Member: Many presentations about the construction and site analysis involved the DEP building smaller tanks than what EPA demands for the best cleanup.
Landau: The ROD discussed solids reduction and a range of tank sizes, not specifics. We went through 86 sites, which is part of the described process going through the EPA. Our priority was to look for tanks that were less disruptive to the city but would still do the job.
CAG Member: Why do we suddenly have the money to make Thomas Greene Park new and nice given the crunch in parks funding?
Clarke: We are here to work together and we are committed to a clean and beautiful Thomas Greene Park. We did not fully renovate the park because it didn’t make sense for capital investment.
CAG Member: Is it possible to be open with us and listen to us? Can you work with the landowner to make a deal so we don’t have to spend money and time in litigation for eminent domain?
Landau: We want to do this but we also have concerns that need to be addressed.
CAG Member: We urge you to make it work. What are the construction timelines? I don’t understand them. How can other places get things cleaned up and a year later have their final certification. Also it looks like you have a new overflow off the tank, why is that?
Landau: That is the timeframe from start to finish including design.
CAG Member: You said there were three things that were the most important and we haven’t talked about the third one. Does it have to be so close and to the east of the infrastructure? Is there flexibility in the siting to other properties? Would it be possible to look elsewhere?
Landau: To be clear it is not a DEP recommendation alone, but a city recommendation, including Parks. While locating close to existing infrastructure is important, Parks issues are crucial as well. The volume and flow are critical; the farther the head house is from the infrastructure, the more construction is needed to create conveyances to carry flow to the existing head house. This involves street closures, utilities movement, etc. Adjacent properties would not involve conveyance in the street.
CAG Member: Did the EPA present to us that we do not need a head house?
Landau: EPA said there was flexibility with creative design for the head house.
CAG Member: It’s important to remember that EPA and Christos do not build head houses, but there is a need for one because there is so much infrastructure.
Landau: This facility (presented in the PowerPoint) is only a schematic. It’s an example of what the head house is and how it works. This is not the design, but this is in compliance with EPA recommendations for these facilities.
CAG Member: EPA said the Superfund process would take 10-12 years. By your calculations, the environmental review will take ¾ year, eminent domain, 3.5 years, and construction 8-10 years. Why does it take so long?
CAG Member: Are you are saving money by moving things closer to the canal?
Clarke: I said it would save resources.
CAG Member: There is a lack of creativity and consulting with the ideas and innovation that are possible here; things seem predetermined. Alloy is bringing a sense of flexibility and talking about the good of the community. The city has not engaged the community thus far.
Landau: The City has spent $200 million on the flushing tunnel, the wastewater pumping station, force main, and pumphouse.
Stephen Levin, Council Member, District 33: Neither option seems like a good option. It is important to note that this is a more residential neighborhood than other places, but has more density. There has to be some facility sited, and that is going to displace something. It is a big deal to displace private land through eminent domain; likewise, it is also a big deal to displace parkland.
The Water Quality/Technical Committee presented the following resolution to the CAG for approval:
The Gowanus CAG has consistently called for the comprehensive cleanup of the Canal and its environs in accordance with the best scientific and engineering insights and solutions available to us that are consistent with the EPA Record of Decision. The CAG holds that these project goals and criteria be applied to the decision regarding the location and design of the required sewage retention tanks. We urge the EPA to make their institutional decisions based on the best recommendations of their project design team and engineers. We trust that the prompt selection of such a site will also provide us with a long-term functional retention system at the earliest opportunity.
We ask that the EPA proceed without delay in the implementation of the remedy as we move toward an environmental cleanup for the health and well being of this whole community.
- EPA is going to pick the best solution, it is already part of the program, not sure there is a need for this resolution.
- Issue with the discussion that the decision would only be made on technical merit, but there is clearly more to worry about here.
- Desire to have a really well crafted resolution incorporating all of the issues regarding the tank siting.
- New wording taking into account design, and community input
- We want a decision based on sound design
- There is no document that says ‘this is what the position is’
- Senior management needs to have a sense of what the CAG position is and sooner rather than later is important
- If there is pressure coming from a Senator or other representative, then EPA staff have to respond strongly to congressional efforts, alacrity is important, so we should not postpone making this decision.
The resolution passed, with the inclusion of an amendment with more information about adding concerns for community input and consideration.
CAG Members (24)
Michelle de La Uz
Rita Miller (alternate Maryann Young)
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA
Kevin Clarke, DEP
Eric Landau, DEP
Stephen Levin, New York City Council Member