Locals Get a Refresher Course, With Few Answers, About the Proposed Gowanus Rezoning

Sketch of possible view along 4th Avenue from 2nd Street. Image via NYC Department of City Planning

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The Department of City Planning is restarting the clock on the highly contentious Gowanus rezoning.

Thursday night, they presented a “refresher” of their plans to Community Board 6’s Land Use Committee, which includes moves to allow higher density mixed-use development around Thomas Greene Playground and 3rd Avenue, as well as facilitate public access and permit residential development along the Gowanus Canal.

Part of the plan promises to implement Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which would create some permanently affordable units in the area. There is also a call for more open space, in the form of a public access area running alongside the shore or water edges, along with upland connections and visual corridors to the canal via pedestrian walkways, in exchange for the changes more development will bring.

Map of the proposed zoning districts in Gowanus. Image via NYC Department of City Planning

Over 300 people attended the virtual meeting, but only a handful were able to ask questions before the meeting moved on to another topic. The chat room, where both supporters and opponents of the rezoning traded barbs, was more lively and perhaps representative of the community’s concerns for the future of their neighborhood.

Brad Lander

“I get that people are skeptical of rezonings, for good reason,” Councilman Brad Lander said at the beginning of the meeting. “I believe if we get this right, that because of all the community input there has been so far over, the Gowanus rezoning could be different.”

The most common concern voiced was one of preparation. For such a large, complex process, residents want to know exactly what is happening and what it means. Many requested that City Planning provide them with the Environmental Impact Statement before the official public review, or ULURP, process begins in January 2021.

Jonathan Keller, who spoke on behalf of City Planning at the meeting, said that because of the nature of the Environmental Impact Statement, which can change up to the final minute, it could not be released early.

Most other questions were diverted or were promised to be addressed at further meetings. It was announced that the next meeting, with a focus on Gowanus Green, would happen on November 19, followed by an infrastructure update on December 2, and a third meeting that addresses Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and affordability on a date to be announced later.

Martin Bisi’s background on the Zoom call

The music producer Martin Bisi, who opened the Gowanus-based BC Studio in 1981, was one of the few who was able to speak. He said he was worried about what the rezoning would bring in terms of displacement, and wanted to see a focus on bringing businesses with Black and Hispanic owners into the neighborhood instead of commercial chain stores.

Without a plan like this in place, he said there was no way he could support the rezoning proposal. “This is looking like a further whitening of South Brooklyn,” he said.

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