City again exterminates proposed pesticide storage facility for East Flatbush

Councilmember Farah Louis speaks at a protest against a planned pesticide facility in East Flatbush in Nov. 2021
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The city has, once again, exterminated a proposed pesticide storage facility on Ralph Avenue in East Flatbush after vocal community opposition, and now is instead planning to site a storage depot for the Department of Homeless Services at the 50,000 square-foot warehouse.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene originally submitted plans for a pesticide storage facility at the site, which sits between Chase and Preston courts and straddles the border between East Flatbush and Canarsie, in September 2020. The proposal was unanimously approved by Community Board 18 in March 2021, though the approval may have been accidental as many members later expressed confusion over the vote mechanics, culminating in the Board officially switching its position to disapproval in May (CB18 chair Michael Ien denied that the initial approval was mistaken).

After an uproar by local pols, including City Councilmember Farah Louis and then-Borough President Eric Adams, the city officially pulled the plug on the proposal. In November, the city informally began a community outreach process again to potentially site the chemical warehouse on the lot, prompting outcry and protests from local pols and civic groups, though a new land use application was not filed.

Concerned residents noted the facility’s proximity to the Brooklyn Terminal Market — a massive food distribution center just a block away — along with a school bus depot next door and residential homes within two blocks of the site.

They also noted the long history of storing chemicals and other dangerous substances within communities of color, and the associated negative impacts that’s had on the health of those communities. That came to the fore last week in Passaic, New Jersey, where a massive fire took place at a chemical plant just across a highway from a 900-family public housing development.

1427 Ralph Ave.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

In light of all that, it appears the community’s concerns won out: a Health Department spokesperson confirmed to Brooklyn Paper that all applications are withdrawn and the Department no longer intends to site the pesticide facility there.

“Relieved to know we won the battle to stop toxic materials from coming in — but that’s only part of the work,” said Jibreel Jalloh, Brooklyn Borough Advocate and president of the Canarsie-based advocacy group the Flossy Organization, who helped organize opposition to the facility. “To truly build a world-class community, we must fight for something and not just against bad government ideas. We’ll continue to organize and go from shouting HELL NO to harmful proposals and shouting HELL YES for more investments into our community.”

At Wednesday’s CB18 meeting, planning and zoning committee chair Sal Calise informed board members of the new proposal for a citywide storage depot for the Department of Homeless Services, which would supplement the department’s existing facility nearby at a massive, multi-purpose warehouse on Farragut Road in Canarsie.

Calise told the panel that based on a visit to the other facility and conversations with DHS, the department would likely store vehicles at the site as well as items one would typically expect to see in a homeless shelter, like bedding, clothing, and baby supplies.

“If that’s what they’re gonna do, that’s not a bad thing,” Calise said. “Better than having pesticides.”

A spokesperson for DHS did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services declined to comment.

While the fight over the pesticide warehouse is over, community members still want to discuss the homeless services storage facility with the city in order to hash out all the details. Councilmember Louis, in a statement to Brooklyn Paper, said as much, noting that she will hold discussions with area residents on the site’s future.

“From the withdrawn DOHMH proposal for a pest control facility to a DHS/DSS storage facility, the future of 1427 Ralph Avenue remains an ongoing conversation with local residents,” Louis said. “I will continue to defer to them to determine what is best for our community.”