The New York City Department of City Planning is in the midst of proposed sweeping zoning changes along two miles of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. The Rezoning Project would clear the way for redeveloping 184 city blocks over 400 acres, allow for residential and commercial development and establish new parkland in an area currently containing primarily industrial and manufacturing space and vacant lots. According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the rezoning, the changes would likely lead to approximately 8,257 residential units and 337,160 square feet of retail space. Additional development is possible on an additional 264 nearby sites as a result of the rezoning. This effort will permanently reshape Brooklyn and has the potential to reconnect communities to the long-forgotten waterfront.
Yet, the Rezoning Project brings with it a host of concerns, including a lack of affordable housing and the destruction of community character. It also has the potential to exacerbate the City’s combined sewer overflow – or CSO – problems. When it rains, the combination of sewage and stormwater overwhelm the City’s sewer system and sewage treatment plants, with excess flow directed – untreated – into the Harbor. The rezoning areas falls within the Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant’s district – already one of the most overburdened districts in the City. This project will add up to 2.2 million gallons of increased sewage to the already-stressed system, potentially causing up to 18 million gallons of additional CSO discharge to the East River and Newtown Creek annually. Newtown Creek in particular is a heavily polluted and impaired waterway; additional flow into this waterway would be further devastating.
The Rezoning Project can and should set a goal of “no combined sewage increases” and incorporate readily-available green development technologies to meet it. Other projects throughout the City have already used onsite wastewater and stormwater treatment, green roofs, permeable pavement, and other technologies to lighten their burden on the municipal sewer system.