The federal government is finally cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, and the Lightstone Group has just finished a 12-story rental building along the banks of the heavily contaminated waterway. Now the city has kicked off a long-awaited rezoning study for the industrial area around the canal, but officials offered few guarantees or timelines for the new zoning.
A few hundred residents came armed with questions to a public meeting at P.S. 32 on Hoyt Street Thursday night. Brooklyn City Planning Director Winston von Engel explained the city doesn’t “want to set a timeframe” for the rezoning, and that the new land use policy would be informed by community input and upcoming public meetings.
But many locals who attended last night had already sat through two years’ worth of meetings for Councilmember Brad Lander’s Bridging Gowanus process, which identified dozens of community goals for the neighborhood’s future. When they asked planners about potential displacement, development on NYCHA property, and public space along the Gowanus Canal, officials couldn’t offer concrete answers.
City Planning project manager Jonathan Keller explained that the city had started a rezoning study for Gowanus in 2007, but it was abandoned when the Environmental Protection Agency declared the canal a Superfund site. So the city will base its new zoning on the Bridging Gowanus framework, not the 2007 study.
“We’re not starting from where we left off in 2009 and 2010 [from the previous study],” said Keller. “A lot has changed in the neighborhood since then.”
In his presentation, Keller outlined the four goals from Bridging Gowanus: investing in infrastructure, encouraging mixed-use development, preserving and creating affordable housing, and preserving manufacturing.
He also spelled out the four main geographic areas in the study and the goals for each part. First there were the NYCHA developments. Wyckoff Gardens is part of the NextGen NYCHA program, which means a 50 percent affordable, 50 percent market-rate project will eventually rise on open space within the development. Then along the canal north of Third Street, there are “opportunities for a mix of uses including light industrial, arts, cultural, and residential when appropriate.”
In the Industrial Business Zone, between Third Street and the BQE, planners hope to preserve the manufacturing zoning and the jobs that come with it. Finally, DCP believes Fourth Avenues offers opportunities for affordable housing and pedestrian improvements.
David Briggs, an architect and director of the Gowanus by Design neighborhood advocacy group, wondered how the city would prevent commercial developers from putting up small stores with large parking lots, like Whole Foods, and discourage ground floor parking.
Council member Stephen Levin explained that the new kind of industrial zoning created for 25 Kent Avenue, a half-million-square-foot office building with light manufacturing space in Williamsburg, might address that problem in Gowanus. The 25 Kent zoning dramatically reduced parking requirements and allowed the developer to earn extra commercial square footage for including manufacturing space.
Dave Powell, a tenant organizer with the Fifth Avenue Committee, angrily noted, “We are still reeling from the 2003 rezoning of 4th Avenue. We’ve watched dozens of tenants displaced from their homes.” He asked, “Could DCP commit to a meeting and study about displacement? Would DCP consider an anti-harassment district [like Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Clinton]?”
An HPD official responded that they’d get in touch with Powell, but the agency couldn’t promise that anti-harassment provisions or tenant protections would be written into the new zoning.
The next planning meeting in the Gowanus rezoning study will be held on December 8 and focus on resiliency.
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