When a Gowanus Rezoning Meeting Was Not a Public Forum, Activists Took It Over

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Is this what you call a meeting?

The question was asked repeatedly at Wednesday night’s gathering for the Gowanus Draft Zoning Proposal at P.S. 32 on Hoyt Street. What many residents thought would be a discussion turned out to be more of school science fair — blown-up pages from the draft proposal, which was released to the public last week, were hung around the gymnasium, while city planning staffers, their shirts adorned with name badges, mingled with the crowd.

Missing was any meaningful dialogue around the proposal. That began to change when members of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ), a local activist group, decided to stage their own meeting.

“Gather around, we want a real meeting today,” member Karen Blondel said into a microphone that was plugged into a small amplifier. The group took chairs from around the room and made their own impromptu meeting in the corner of the auditorium.

The open house format, they said, was not going to work. There were questions that needed to be answered. Some of those questions included: What happens to the nearby public housing when the rezoning goes into effect? Will public space be created for all residents? (Much of the current public space in the proposal will be along the canal, behind major new residential development.)

In a statement that was released to the press, the group asked that local public housing be preserved (including repairs to the Gowanus Community Center), that the city require “the deepest affordable units” as part of the planned Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, that there is 100 percent affordability on city-owned land and the creation of what the group is calling an EcoDistrict, which was included in the framework released last summer but is not mentioned in any direct way in the current proposed draft.

Enough noise was being made, and a majority of the crowd began to move toward the makeshift meeting, that two DCP staffers were forced to sheepishly face the audience. What they didn’t have were answers, instead reiterating that this was a process and that there would be further meetings. (HPD staffers, who were also in attendance, did not come up to answer questions.)

Another meeting, this time an actual public forum in front of the community board, was promised on February 28. It will be a chance for what most of the people in attendance wanted: to ask questions and get answers.

“This is what community looks like,” the group chanted.

[Photos by Craig Hubert]

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