Photo: Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fight to save building ends with façade being incorporated into new sewage facility
In September 2018, you probably read either here or in another New York news outlet that the City of New York took title to the Gowanus Station Building, at 234 Butler Street, through its powers of eminent domain. The City plans to build a new sewage facility on the premises, since the Gowanus Canal has been dangerously polluted for years.
The new sewage facility will focus on cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, according to a plan finalized by the EPA in 2013. However, the Gowanus Station building will have to be demolished in order to make way for it.
Over the last few years, community activists have been staging protests against the planned demolition of Gowanus Station. A group called the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition campaigned for the century-old, Beaux Arts-style Butler Street building to be included in a city-designated historic district. This would have protected the building from demolition.
That didn’t happen, but a sort of compromise was reached. The Environmental Protection Agency has drafted a memorandum of agreement with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, and says that it will preserve the Gowanus Station’s two walls. Gowanus Station’s Nevins Street facade and 25 to 30 feet of its Butler Street facade will be dismantled and reconstructed “to the extent practicable,” the EPA said.
People from the Preservation Committee don't seem the least bit happy about all of this. “Preservationists know that a promise to tear down and rebuild a historic building does not mean that it will actually happen, that it will be done well, or that it will have any authenticity,” a Gowanus Landmarking Coalition spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“If the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had stepped in, we would not be at this juncture,” the spokesperson added. “If the Department of Environmental Protection had not failed to consider the building’s value as a National Register-eligible site from the outset, we would not be at this juncture. If the Environmental Protection Agency had insisted that DEP back down from its fait accompli, we would not be at this juncture.”
Why all the fuss? At first glance, the Gowanus Station building located at 234 Butler Street doesn’t even seem like much. Maybe that’s because of the very distracting yellow “Sanitation Repairs” signage. But if you look a little closer, particularly at the top of this building, you will see that its details are actually quite beautiful.
Such is the power of eminent domain. When the government needs your property for a public use, no amount of protesting will stop it. Here, a sewage facility to help dispel the pollution in the Gowanus canal is inarguably a public use. So the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution kicks in, and the property owner’s main recourse is to sue for just compensation in Court. Although these types of legal proceedings tend to take many years to resolve, with competent legal representation property owners are usually made whole.
And here we toot our own horn for a moment, and note that not a single one of our clients has ever gone out of business or lost money in eminent domain proceedings. This is not true for all property owners facing condemnation, even when represented by counsel claiming to know what they are doing. When facing eminent domain, it is very important to choose the right lawyer. You only get one chance to be made whole.