Gowanus Residents Reject Tall Buildings at Final Bridging Gowanus Meeting

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At the final Bridging Gowanus meeting Monday night, reaction was mixed to a presentation of findings after a years-long series of meetings about the future of Gowanus, but many residents said they do not want tall buildings.

Some attendees thanked Council Member Brad Lander and the Pratt Institute facilitators, and some said the process was better than they had expected. Others said the process was manipulative and designed to build a false appearance of consensus in favor of a rezoning that would allow luxury high rise buildings in exchange for much-needed infrastructure improvements that should be made anyway.

About 100 local residents and representatives from community groups and nonprofits gathered at P.S. 36 in Carroll Gardens to hear Pratt Institute facilitators summarize findings about sewage infrastructure, the economy, mandatory mixed-use zones, historic preservation, and affordable housing, among other things.

The report and Councilmen Brad Lander, Steve Levin and others acknowledged past rezonings in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and 4th Avenue had favored developers to the detriment of neighborhoods.

“We know some people do not want any residential development. Others would be OK with low-rise development. But the majority of people indicated they would be willing to accept some taller buildings — but if and only if they meet other goals,” said one of the Pratt Institute facilitators.

Some attendees said they disagreed.

“I find it difficult to believe the majority of people who are actual residents of Gowanus would give up open sky for eight- to 18-story buildings. I would like proof,” said Gowanus resident Linda Mariano of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), which has been active in trying to designate the area a national historic district.

“I am distraught at the potential for a rezoning that threatens to change this neighborhood. I feel the process was very misleading and nondemocratic,” said resident Debbie Stoller, also a member of Save Gowanus and FROGG. “The pressure is from big developers. What was constantly discussed in meetings was that we don’t want taller buildings and luxury housing.”

She continued, “I fear the framework will be the same as the rezoning proposed in 2007: tall luxury buildings on the bank of the Gowanus. I don’t want to see that, and if I do, we’ll all be really disappointed.” She added there is no reason to tie needed NYCHA housing repairs, such as working elevators and plumbing, to a rezoning or high rise luxury development.

“I am curious why we would rezone before we understand what storm safety we have,” said Gowanus resident Warren Cohen.

“Fixing sewers should not be dependent on our building 20-story buildings all over the place,” said resident Carl Teitelbaum, who also owns a small business in Gowanus. “I’ve been to all three of the large meetings. No one wants 18 stories.”

“If city planning hears 18 stories, they will latch on to that. And I don’t think anyone wants that next to the canal,” said a resident who gave his name as Joseph.

“We are not recommending a height of building. We are simply reporting what came back in that exercise,” said a facilitator.

An exec from affordable housing developer 5th Avenue Committee said the forthcoming mostly affordable 774-unit Gowanus Green development has not yet been through the ULURP process and is in hiatus until the canal cleanup is finished.

Three politicians who were present promised to do outreach to local property owners to let them know federal historic district designation would make funds available, not regulate what they can do with their property.

All the comments were recorded and will be published in January. The framework may or may not be sent to city agencies after that, said the facilitators.

The purpose of meetings was to build consensus, said Lander, pictured above. Any zoning changes would require a vote of City Council. He won’t allow a rezoning without the contingencies, he said.

After the meeting, Stoller said to us: “I just know it’s going to happen. We’re going to get 18-story luxury housing developments along the canal and the only people it will benefit is the developers.” If the area is not rezoned, affordable housing, artist culture and the character of the neighborhood will be preserved, she said. “It’s not NIMBY of people to want to protect what they have.”

Bridging Gowanus Coverage [Brownstoner]

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Above, Pratt Institute facilitators.

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About 100 people turned out for the meeting, above.

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