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Gowanus Developer Tries to Fend Off City's Sewage Tank Land Seizure

By Leslie Albrecht | December 3, 2015 1:55pm
 Alloy Development wants to stop the city from using eminent domain to seize its Butler Street property.
Gowanus Developer Offers to Donate Land So City Won't Take Property
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GOWANUS — A developer trying to stop the city from seizing its future waterfront development site to install sewage tanks has offered an alternative — saying they'd like to donate a piece of the land as public greenspace.

Alloy Development, which wants to build a commercial project at 234 Butler St. and 242 Nevins St., attempted to head off a city plan to use eminent domain by announcing Tuesday that it wants to donate a portion of the block for a park or open space.

In exchange for the greenspace, on Nevins Street between Butler and Degraw streets, Alloy is asking the city not to seize the entire property to put sewage tanks underneath its buildings.

"We're saying we have something simple to offer, which is land," Alloy's co-founder Jared Della Valle said. "What we get out of it is just literally no eminent domain. ... We don’t have any other requests." He added, "We don't have any motivation other than creating a development opportunity for ourselves."

The city could seize the land to build two massive underground sewage tanks that will keep polluted water from flowing into the Gowanus Canal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to build the tanks as part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup, but the city and EPA disagree on where the tanks should go.

The EPA says the best spot for the tanks is in the soil beneath Thomas Greene Park and "Double D" pool, on Degraw and Nevins streets. The land there is contaminated and regardless of whether the tanks are placed there, it will have to be dug up to remove pollutants. The EPA argues that while the park is excavated, the city can install the tanks, which will together hold about 12 million gallons of raw sewage and polluted water.

But city officials say putting the underground sewage tanks beneath the park will take up to nine years — too long a time to deprive locals of one of the few green spaces and recreational opportunities in the neighborhood. The park would be closed for about four years for the cleanup, but installing the tanks could add five extra years to the timeline, city officials have said.

As a way to avoid closing the park for so long, the city is floating a plan to acquire the property where Alloy Development wants to build a commercial stucture, which the developers say will likely house "creative office space for light manufacturing and creative culture."

Alloy has a 99-year lease on the 234 Butler parcel and is in talks with the owner of 242 Nevins. Both property owners have agreed in writing to donate portions of their land to the city, Della Valle said.

Current zoning allows Alloy to build a two-story commercial development there that could span both parcels, but Alloy is proposing to split the building into two taller structures on either side of the land while leaving the middle of the property vacant for open space or park land.

Under Alloy's proposal, the city could follow the EPA's recommendation to put the sewage tanks underneath Thomas Greene Park and build a new park on the donated land next to the Alloy project.

Alloy's proposal would also save the city both time and money, because acquiring the Butler and Nevins properties through eminent domain could take three to five years and cost the city as much as $100 million, Della Valle said.

Alloy has been quietly presenting its proposal to elected officials and other stakeholders, and unveiled its idea to the public at Tuesday night's Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group meeting.

Representatives for the Parks Department and the city's Department of Environmental Protection gave Alloy's proposal a lukewarm response Wednesday.

"Parks and DEP appreciate the private developer's proposal, but we remain concerned about siting the tanks under Thomas Greene Playground as doing so would significantly increase the amount of time that the playground and pool are closed to the public and would result in significantly less open space than the city's recommendation," said Parks Dept. spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson.

DEP officials say Alloy's proposal would create 138,000 square feet of open space, while the city’s plan for siting the sewage tanks on the Nevins and Butler properties would create 185,000 square feet of open space.

However, the EPA has final say on where the tanks go, and the agency is expected to announce its decision within the next several weeks.

An EPA spokesman said Wednesday that the agency is reviewing Alloy's proposal.

"EPA remains committed to working with the community and all of the parties on creative solutions," spokesman Elias Rodriguez said.