The Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal Is Here, Promising Dense Development Along the Canal

Gowanus. Photo by Craig Hubert

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The next step in the long and winding road toward the rezoning of Gowanus finally arrived Wednesday morning.

Called the Draft Zoning Proposal, it puts in writing many of the ideas that were laid out in the framework that was released in June 2018, including 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.

On the latter, the proposal calls for creating “a vibrant, accessible, resilient and diverse waterfront.” Part of that plan is 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.

Sketch of possible view looking west from Degraw Street and 3rd Avenue. Image via NYC Department of City Planning

And, if the rezoning passes, changes are sure to come. Rezoning from industrial to residential is likely to dramatically increase the value of rezoned property and be a bonanza for current owners of industrial property in the area. Development along sections of the canal, according to the proposal, can reach 25 to 30 stories after base heights and setbacks.

The process is also far from over. There is an open house on February 6 at P.S. 32, where City Planning will introduce the proposal and talk about the next steps. These include presenting the proposal to Community Board 6, beginning the environmental review process — which includes a draft scope of work and public meetings — and eventually going through the city’s formal public review, or ULURP, process.

Sketch of possible view looking north from Union Street. Image via NYC Department of City Planning

During that time, expect there to be some pushback from some residents, many of whom have opposed previous attempts to rezone the area to allow tall residential buildings near the canal. The city has been looking to rezone the area for over a decade, and City Planning released a proposal in 2008. In May 2018, a coalition of local and city-wide groups, as well as residents, renewed a call for landmarking the area, providing a list of proposed sites in Gowanus for individual, scenic and historic district designation. So far, none of their proposed sites have gone in front of the LPC.

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

In 2014, the New York State Preservation Office decided not to move forward with a plan to designate the Gowanus Canal area as a state and national historic district. The designation, which had been in the works for about a decade, was shelved after the state received a substantial number of notarized letters from property owners objecting to it.

Meanwhile, work on remediating the toxic canal, one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites, is just beginning and, when it’s not stalled by a government shutdown, won’t be finished for a number of years.

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