Bohemian face-off as activists crash Gowanus art party

Scheming on a plan and it goes all wrong: A group of activists descended on the Lightstone Group construction site on Bond Street to protest the development — and the new art surrounding it.
The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s lipstick on a pig.

So argue a group of Gowanus artists and activists who crashed a party on Wednesday celebrating the installation of an art exhibit outside the under-construction 700-unit Lightstone Group development on Bond Street. More than a dozen protesters decried the attempt to beautify the development that they say will crowd neighborhood schools and subways, cause traffic jams, stress already over-taxed sewers, and drive away creative types.

“We wanted to raise awareness that there are already artists living in Gowanus who are going to be priced out by Lightstone,” said Lisanne McTernan, a 20-year Gowanus resident who lives nearby on Bond Street.

The art project covers par of the sidewalk shed along Bond Street between First and Second streets and features work by nine local artists. The initiative was organized by ArtBridge, an arts organization that works with developers to adorn construction fences around the city. The Gowanus event gave artists a chance to speak to passersby about their work, and Lightstone sprung for food trucks to hand out free grub, an organizer said.

But free eats and spruced-up scaffolding did not sway McTernan and other neighbors, who showed up on Wednesday night wearing dust masks with “Toxic Plan” painted on them, and handed out anti-Lighstone flyers. Several hundred people attended the event in all, according to organizers, but one protester said few were actually interested in the creativity on display.

“Most people just came for free food. What a joke,” McTernan said.

The director of ArtBridge tried to distance himself from Lightstone while defending the art installation.

“This project has nothing to do with Lightstone or whether or not that development happens,” said Stephen Pierson, who lost last year’s Council race to represent a nearby district. “Lightstone provided the fence and paid for costs, but the project is autonomous. As long as the development is happening, I don’t see a downside to empowering local artists.”

ArtBridge has been at it since 2008, but Pierson said this is the first time one of the group’s projects has been dragged into a neighborhood battle over development.

Pierson also rejected the idea that beautifying construction sites serves as propaganda for developers and said it felt weird to be protested.

“It’s not comfortable for me to be on this side of it. I’m sort of used to being on the progressive side of things,” he said.

One participating artist said she understands the protesters’ gripes, but echoed the argument that the construction site’s new skin has nothing to do with the massive luxury housing complex coming together inside. The development will sit on a bank of the Gowanus Canal, a federal-government-certified toxic nightmare that floods with sewage during heavy rains.

“The art brings something positive, even if what is going on behind the fence is negative,” said Joelle Shannon, a Cobble Hill artist who contributed three paintings. “I think people rightly feel that it is crazy to build a 700-unit development on a Superfund site, but I don’t feel implicated.”

The Lightstone Group has fought hard to develop the site on Bond Street, which lies on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. Neighbors have complained of noise during construction, and say its elevated foundation will send additional flood waer from the fetid inlet into the surrounding area during the next Hurricane Sandy.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Beatnik Girl from Gowanus says:
This art is doing nothing positive . Except reminding us of the money rolling in and that real estate is at such a premium that it is perfectly OK to build in a toxic flood zone and compromise the health of the community while it's going up. We have been getting sick from this project. This is art with no integrity. It doesn't matter that it's a done deal. It's dirty. You want exposure? There are other venues.
Aug. 29, 2014, 12:01 pm
BrooklynBohemians Inc. from Gowanus says:
Lipstick on a pig? What a fantastic description!

For an in-depth and art-filled blog post on this event and topic see also "Even ART can not heal broken Gowanus" at
There, some bold and honest and real art about the Gowanus can be found. Once again Brooklyn has spurned art wars! Hopefully someone at the NYC DEC is listening.
Aug. 29, 2014, 12:03 pm
The Truth from Gowanus says:
The truth is our eyes were stinging as we passed out the flyers. Some of us were sickened by the petroleum smells and the chemicals being used by the developer to supposedly quell the smells. (It is not working). As we ate the free food served at the opening it tasted like chemicals. Parents of young children were concerned. With all this fun at a supposedly light and fun Gowanus event who needs hospital emergency rooms?
Aug. 29, 2014, 12:20 pm
Notabohemian from Carroll Gardens says:
I am certainly not a bohemian or an activist but support my neighbors bringing awareness about the ongoing construction issues at the Lightstone.

The fumes coming from the site are so overpowering that walking down Bond to Whole Foods is unbearable.
Aug. 29, 2014, 12:21 pm
old timer says:
I have lived here all my life and live two blocks from the site. Last night we were all sitting outside as usual night and we were smelling constant whiffs of a terrible chemical smell coming up the street from the 2nd street and the canal area. We were trying to figure out what it was. It almost spelled like great amounts of mosquito spray like when the city sprays for mosquitos. At 10:00 a gigantic truck went by us smelling of the same smell but really really really strong and awful. It had a giant tank and hoses wrapped all around it like a truck to spread a chemical. I wish I had thought to take a picture but it was very fast. After the truck went by it left a terrible chemical that was so bad we had to go indoors. This morning I woke up with a bad sore throat and raspy voice that I still have now. My husband had stomach pains all night. I am really very afraid of these chemicals. The neighborhood was never like this before. We always had air we could breathe in Carroll Gardens and we always enjoyed sitting together outdoors. Now we are full of fear and concern. What chemicals are being used at the Lightstone Development site and why? Why was the truck there at 10 PM and not day time?
Aug. 29, 2014, 2:13 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
The NYC government is negligent, or worst reckless, to allow this development to proceed before the The Gowanus Federal Super Fund Site is cleaned up to a reasonable degree. What's worse is the fact middle class people (upper middle and rich people will buy elsewhere) will buy these condos knowing they are putting their children and families at a higher health risk. What a terrible thing to do: Profit over common sense.
Aug. 29, 2014, 2:15 pm
Real Estate Gossiper from Gowanus says:
Rumor has it the Lightstone Development units will be rental units and not sales units on account of the fact that finding a bank to hold a mortgage on a unit along a superfund site with a looming and giant EPA remediation project will be difficult if not impossible to find for potential buyers. The developer and the banks would have their as-es covered this way in term of potential lawsuits stemming from would be buyers as well in case someone started choking on fumes dust sewage chemicals and whatnot.
Aug. 29, 2014, 3:03 pm
Notabohemian from Carroll Gardens says:
Old timer,

I don't know what the truck you saw was doing but according to the Public Health Engineer at the New York State Department of Health
Bureau of Environmental Exposure Investigation, the petroleum fumes are being masked and we should be smelling citrus or pine. I still smell petroleum.

Maybe the Brooklyn Paper can do a story about it.
Aug. 29, 2014, 5:27 pm
Old Timer says:
I don't know what truck it was either. If it goes by tonight we are ready with cameras. Someone told me they were using a chemical called "Biosolve" to make the petroleum fumes go away. We thought that was the truck maybe. It had no markings on it which struck us as strange.
Aug. 29, 2014, 5:36 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
If these people would like to live in a place where no one wants to build anything, I hear many nice things about Detroit.

“We wanted to raise awareness that there are already artists living in Gowanus who are going to be priced out by Lightstone,” said Lisanne McTernan,"

In other words, "I get to be the Gowanus artist! I called it first!"
Aug. 29, 2014, 6:06 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I feel bad for Pierson though, who says he's used to being on the progressive side of things. In New York, the self-described "progressives" are extremely conservative. Like the William F. Buckley's National Review, they want to "stand athwart history yelling stop!"
Aug. 29, 2014, 6:08 pm
Lisanne from Gowanus says:
I actually said a lot of things besides the "artist being priced out" but it got edited as these things do. I am a teacher and a good tenant. I am no dilatant artist type with a trust fund. It is wrong for the neighborhood to be choking on these fumes from god knows what chemicals which they down play in all the city and state agencies. Come down here for 5 minutes and you will get my drift immediately. They didn't start carting out the contaminated soil sitting on the site until the day before the opening. THis is the only thank you I have to ArtBridge.
Aug. 29, 2014, 6:47 pm
ty from pps says:
chemicals are bad.
Aug. 30, 2014, 8:58 am
bklynebeth from Gowanus says:
I live a few doors up from the site and we are told by the DEC that the toxic petroleum contaminated soil is being removed from this classified brownfield site in accordance with regulations. Air monitors are in place on site the soil is being wet with water and covered each night and Biosolve is being used to mask the odors. Any soil that is brought up and kept on site is being stored at the edge of the site near the water, away from homes. Ok then, why are we feeling lightheaded and dizzy all day, every day that the digging is happening. Some days it is so bad I leave the house where I work full time from a home studio and go to the city or elsewhere just to get a break. I've read the brownfield report and know what is in the soil and have looked up what the effects of inhaling said contaminants are and the warnings say to avoid "prolonged exposure." Does every day for weeks on end constitute prolonged exposure? Sorry, but citrus scented surfactant is not doing it for me. I smell hydrocarbons in my house and they are making me sick.
Aug. 30, 2014, 3:35 pm
bklynebeth from Gowanus says:
"Artists use lies to reveal the truth while politicians use lies to hide it."
-- Evy Hammond, V for Vendetta, 2005
Aug. 30, 2014, 3:55 pm
An artist and green roof activist from Gowanus says:
Please remember:
-the Gowanus has been polluted. For years. And the real goal is to clean up this horrible pollution as well as deal with sewage runoff problems. As a resident of the neighborhood I've worked hard to start a rooftop farm and reduce storm water runoff locally.

-while this pollution is a serious issue, this development is part of a solution to bring money, development and interest to the area. While is clear the protesters don't like this solution- it's not like they've done anything to solve this issue.

-And this developer or Art Bridge are not even remotely responsible for the pollution of the canal. Toxic fumes and pollution have been in the Gowanus for years. It's kinda funny residents are complaining about it to these developers now. Maybe these concerned residents should have researched their neighborhood a little more before moving in and be spending time protesting muther——en Con Ed. Or any of the industries that have ruined the waterway.

-as to ruining the character of the neighborhood by putting a large development nearby. The protesters are entirely entitled to their opinion about this. BUT let us not blame this development on further ruining the canal. The Gowanus has BEEN RUINED. And these 'concerned residents' are late to the party.
Aug. 30, 2014, 6:08 pm
Lisanne from Gowanus says:
We've been complaining for years. We know about it, knew about it and are incredulous that this project is happening. I know I 've been involved with environmental concerns for the last 8 years and other way more. Stop assuming we are late to the party. We are the reason the party has come here. This project is way too big for the land that it is on. I will be gone before it's done. I had a great run on Bond Street which I used to call "Tobacco Road" because of it's peacefulness and Edward Hopperesque beauty. It's been raped now. Enjoy.
Aug. 30, 2014, 11:39 pm
Joe from Gowanus says:
Do we want to keep Gowanus polluted and filled with truck parking lots? Under Superfund, owners must clean the properties and build to finance the cleanup. This is true of the art powerhouse development across from Lightstone, true of Whole Foods, the new 2nd Ave DOC facility, etc.

Development that includes 140 affordable homes is the only project attracting protest? NIMBY attitudes don't belong in Gowanus.
Aug. 31, 2014, 7:16 am
The Other Lisanne from Sheepshead Bay says:
The leakage of fumes from the site was the immediate issue. This was expressed when we spoke to the representative from your paper. As news, I think it was important enough to emphasize. I spent about two hours there, I left with a terrible headache. The toxicity of the air was quite apparent to anyone who was there that evening. But specific mention of this was carefully avoided in the article.

This was not a clash between the artists. Needless to say we were concerned that art was being used as a public relations device. As many of us the people who came to hand out fliers are artists we did see the contrast between our commitment to the neighborhood and the feelingness of the participating artists to ignore the statement they were making, that being that the developers are sensitive people who recognize Gowanus as having a vibrant creative community. The completion of this project will push some of the members of that group out of Gowanus. But we do recognize that artists can sometimes act without taking such matters into consideration. Our position is that we will not.

I don't live in the immediate area but the toxifying of the air concerns me. If this can be allowed here it will be allowed to occur in other places. Including where I live. Change occurs when people say "Enough already, this can go no further".
Aug. 31, 2014, 12:19 pm
Carroll Gardens Resident says:
It's Sunday 2 PM and the air by Smith and 2nd Street continues to have a very nasty chemical of some sort in it. I have no idea what it is. You can't stay outside very long without your eyes stinging and your throat getting sore....maybe ten mins before you feel it! I live near Smith St and was outside tending my garden with my son when I noticed it. It is scaring the h e l l out of us as we don't know whether it is toxic for humans. UGH. What has happened to lovely and once livable Carroll Gardens?
Aug. 31, 2014, 12:54 pm
Gus from Bed Styu says:
Fun fact: Brooklyn is Dutch for "whining ——s"
Aug. 31, 2014, 2:28 pm
pinky from bed stuy says:
dilatant? not a dilettante, not so good at the vocab either.


A dilettante is a person who enjoys the arts or someone who engages in a field as an amateur out of casual interest rather than as a profession.
Sept. 2, 2014, 11:28 am
Breathing from the publicly shared air. says:
Joe, they are not "cleaning up" this polluted land. They are only hiding the pollution.

While they have removed some of the oil soaked stuff from the surface, they are not removing the bulk of the toxins that go well below the surface.

Their cleanup plan is to hope the building's foundation keeps the toxins from infiltrating, so they are going to put in some venting system to release gases through vents along Bond St. That structure has a rather limited life.

New York Taxpayers are paying for the work.

New York Taxpayers take on liability for the brownfield.

Sept. 2, 2014, 4:03 pm
Joe from Gowanus says:
It is OK for taxpayers to finance / take on future liability for Lowes, Whole Foods and a building for artists but NOT for 140 affordable apartments?

Please stop the NIMBY attitude.

Yes, brownfields are capped an monitored forever - that's standard brownfield cleanup. Welcome to the real world.
Sept. 2, 2014, 8:12 pm

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