Contentious Gowanus rezoning plan paused again

May 11, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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In-person vs. virtual hearings, affordable housing, pollution are all issues

The city’s rezoning plan for the Gowanus neighborhood has taken twists and turns at every level.

Now, as of Friday, Justice Katherine Levine of Brooklyn Supreme Court issued a ruling that pauses the review process for the rezoning, forces the city to include an in-person public hearing to address tech-access concerns, and raises many other questions, according to the Voice of Gowanus, a local organization that opposes the plan.

Justice Levine is the same judge who, on April 19, lifted a restraining order on the plan, allowing the ULURP process to go forward. According to Patch, it had been delayed since January by a Voice of Gowanus lawsuit panning the use of virtual hearings instead of in-person meetings during the coronavirus crisis.

“If you think you know what’s going to happen next in the Gowanus rezoning, think again,” said Voice of Gowanus in a press release. “The judge has stopped the ULURP clock on the Gowanus project, and has restricted public hearings on the project from taking place until further notice. Justice Levine has made clear that further changes in circumstances may result in the TRO being reinstated.

“No matter what happens next, the court’s order today compelling the city to provide an in-person public hearing element to facilitate access for those without adequate technology shows that Voice of Gowanus’ concerns have been right all along,” the group added.

Justice Katherine Levine of Brooklyn Supreme Court. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

Jason Zakal, the group’s lawyer, said, “Today, the court partially granted the temporary relief we asked for, in terms of pausing the “clock” on ULURP review for the Gowanus plan, and barring any public hearings from taking place without further court order. 

“The court also made clear that the format of the public hearings is subject to change as the governor and mayor continue to issue new orders consistent with their plans to significantly ease restrictions and capacity limits for in-person gatherings.” 

The Citywide People’s Land Use Alliance said, “The Citywide People’s Land Use Alliance supports the legal action of Voice of Gowanus, which seeks to halt New York City’s ‘virtual’ land-use procedure (ULURP). The ‘virtual’ version of ULURP limits civic participation, which is guaranteed by the City Charter. We need a true democracy in which all people—regardless of ability, class, race, economic power, or current housing status—have the power to decide what will be built.”–>

The controversial rezoning, which has been in the works for more than a decade and has drawn opposition from some local residents, would allow residential development and towers as high as 30 stories along the polluted Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site now undergoing cleanup. 

The original rezoning plan, according to an Eagle article from 2019, wanted to create a reported 8,200 apartments in the area, bringing in an estimated 18,000 new residents and creating more than 3,000 jobs. But the proposal fails to prepare for the inevitable overburden that new residents would bring to the neighborhood, further polluting the toxic canal, the Eagle said at the time.

The plan covers an area roughly bounded by Bond Street to the west; Baltic Street to the north; Fourth Avenue to the east; and Huntington, 3rd, 7th and 15th streets to the south. Several areas in the southwest area of the neighborhood would be designated as a “Canal Sub-District;” and only two small areas, both west of Nevins Street, would be designated as residential. 

Three areas just west of Fourth Avenue and one further west would be designated as industrial and commercial; and a large area, including all of Fourth Avenue, would be designated for mixed-use development, according to another Eagle article for 2019

Local Councilmember Brad Lander said at the time, said, “The Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal is a strong next step toward the sustainable, inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood that the community has been envisioning for many years.”

Still, according to some published reports, Lander and community groups have made their support contingent on the de Blasio administration committing the money to rehabilitate NYCHA’s Gowanus and Wyckoff housing developments. 

In general, opponents of the plan point to pollution and the Gowanus Canal’s status as a Superfund site, while supporters point to the number of affordable apartments they say it would create.

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