Gowanus residents file suit to halt parole building

A coalition of Gowanus residents have filed suit against state and city agencies in an attempt to halt the construction of a 61,000-square-foot Brooklyn Parole Office at 15 Second Avenue, in the middle of the residential and industrial neighborhood.

The group, Gowanus United, claims that state agencies – the Office of General Services and Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) – didn’t perform required environmental reviews, and that then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city illegally waived city zoning laws for the site.

The Brooklyn Parole Office would serve all of Brooklyn’s 6,000-plus parolees, at a reported rate of around 400 parolees a day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for mandated parole visits. It would employ a staff of 112 parole officers, 33 support staff, five bureau chiefs, three revocation specialists, one reentry services specialist and one regional director.

The facility is slated to open in January, 2015.

“We object to the overwhelming scale of this mega-site,” said Adine Pusey, vice president of the Eighth Street Block Association. “We have welcomed our share of social services here in Gowanus and we support the importance of ex-offender reentry, [but] why the secrecy and why the rush to force the site here with no community input?”

Attorney Steven Russo of law firm Greenberg Traurig added, “The glaring lack of transparency is bad enough, but when you compound that with the [lack of review] it raises a huge red flag.”

The site is located along the Gowanus Canal, infamous as a federal Superfund site in need of cleaning.

Zoning law also requires more parking than the facility would provide, thanks to a waiver granted by the city.

The Brooklyn Parole Office’s move from Downtown Brooklyn to Gowanus was announced in July with no prior community input, despite the state receiving proposals for Gowanus sites in 2012 and 2013.

According to residents, 15 Second Avenue has limited public transportation options, requiring parolees to walk past schools, playgrounds, parks and residential areas to get there.

DOCCS maintains that a staff of 120 armed peace officers will patrol the area during office hours to ensure community safety. “[This] will allow for the development of a crime prevention partnership with the community,” they wrote in a statement to Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman on October 8.

In addition, DOCCS stated that the staff of the Brooklyn Parole Office may shop at local businesses, providing a community benefit.

The site sits within an Industrial Business Zone.

Borough President Eric Adams has chimed in, expressing support for “the overall mission and work” of DOCCS, but concern that the location selection “come[s] at the expense of the city’s limited manufacturing zoned land stock” and should be based not on lower land cost, “but rather on the resources in the surrounding area that can make that facility best serve its community purpose.”

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