As New York City’s federally mandated cleanup of the toxic Gowanus Canal continues to ramp up, efforts to install sewage tanks at the head of the canal could end up destroying several buildings that would help the neighborhood qualify for a national historic district designation.
The decision to buy out three private parcels along the canal comes after local community pushback canceled the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) initial plans to install the 8-million-gallon detention tank under the nearby Double D Pool and Thomas Greene Park. Instead, the DEP will now buy out the three parcels for a cost of up to $70 million. If the owners refuse to sell their land, the city will begin a lengthy eminent domain process to seize them.
Apart from the monetary costs, leveling the existing buildings at 234 Butler Street, 242 Nevins Street and 270 Nevins St. for use as a staging area during the construction could damage the neighborhood’s standing in the eyes of the National Register of Historic Places. If local officials were to submit Gowanus’s low-lying, historically industrial waterfront for preservation, it’s likely that the construction of the tank would affect the area’s eligibility.
The 100-year-old 234 Butler St. in particular stands out for its terra cotta and brick façade, with the Gowanus name emblazoned in brick on the building’s cornice. Residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood rallied to protect the former Gowanus Station upon learning that the EPA and DEP would be tearing it down. In a press release to the borough president, Linda Mariano of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, said, “Its design and sculptural elements tie directly into the history of the Gowanus neighborhood’s relationship with water. It can and should be saved.”
In a letter to the EPA, Olivia Brazee, Historic Site Restoration Coordinator with State Historic Preservation Office, wrote that “Its demolition would adversely affect both the building and the National Register eligible Gowanus Canal Historic District.”
While an attempt was made to have the neighborhood officially realized as a state and national historic place in 2014, community intervention ultimately led to the plan being shelved. The DEP and EPA will need to come to an agreement on the location of the detention tank before the canal’s dredging finishes in 2027, but if installed, would reduce wastewater runoff into the canal by up to 91 percent.