District 39

Brad Lander

Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington

Gowanus Rezoning: How I hope we’ll approach it

There’s a lot of suspicion about rezonings these days. As someone who has spent my whole career working for livable neighborhoods and community-based planning, I get it.

Not too many people are excited about new buildings at heights taller than the surrounding brownstones. In some neighborhoods, low-income tenants fear that new development will push them out. We worry about whether there will be enough school seats, open space, and transit to accommodate new neighbors. Does development make sense in the face of climate change? And it seems like developers are always getting one over on us.

So I want to have an honest conversation with you about the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning. About why I hope you’ll be open to it despite what might be your instinctive resistance. And about the things we still need to see before we could be satisfied that the plan is a win for our community.

More than five years ago, we began our work together through the “Bridging Gowanus” community planning process. Last June, building on that work, the Department of City Planning released Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood; then in January, their Draft Zoning Framework. This week, City Planning released the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement which will help shape our discussions over the coming year. And you can read more about the scoping notice and what it means in City Limits here.

With those details coming into focus, we can see the opportunities the rezoning offers — and the work ahead of us to make sure we can be ready for the challenges growth brings.

The Gowanus Rezoning is an opportunity to build a far more inclusive, integrated, affordable community than the one we have today.

I love the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. But they are not integrated or affordable. According to City Planning’s analysis, the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning would likely lead, over time, to an estimated 8,200 new housing units, 3,000 (or 37%) of which would be permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families (if you’re asking “affordable for who?” check out the FAQ here).

Gowanus would be the first “mandatory inclusionary housing” (MIH) neighborhood re-zoning proposed for a whiter, wealthier neighborhood, where there’s relatively little risk of displacement. So we have the opportunity to create a real model for an integrated neighborhood, with diverse schools, and a vibrant community life, right here in the middle of Brownstone Brooklyn.

We’ve got the makings of a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood, including artists and light-manufacturing businesses around a revitalized canal with some great new open spaces.

As a result of strong voices from the community, the Gowanus Rezoning is genuinely mixed-use. Many mid-block areas will be preserved for industrial and commercial uses. Along the Canal and Thomas Green Park, there would be space reserved for the “Gowanus mix” of light-manufacturing, arts, and not-for-profit uses.

The waterfront access plan — meaningfully shaped by the vision of groups like the Gowanus Canal Conservancy — would activate the canal, the bridge crossings, and a network of green spaces throughout the area.

And with some additional effort, the new development can be knit together with preservation of historic buildings and an urban design that makes the Gowanus Canal a vibrant center for the life of an increasingly diverse community.

Out of a legacy of industrial pollution, we can create one of NYC’s greenest and most resilient neighborhoods.

We’ve got a special obligation to pay attention to environmental issues, around a Superfund site that flooded during Hurricane Sandy. That means buildings and a waterfront designed with long-term sea-level rise in mind, and that also reduce energy use, auto-dependence, and combined sewer overflows (CSO) into the canal.

Draft Zoning Proposal: Canal Corridor

In fact, the neighborhood envisioned by the Gowanus Rezoning, with a mix of opportunities to live, work, and build community, close to transit, is just the kind of place envisioned in the April 2019 National Geographic magazine as the more sustainable future for cities.  

Now, I know you’ve got a lot of questions. You might be thinking:

  • Why can’t we just leave Gowanus alone? I like it the way it is!
  • Do the buildings really need to be 22 stories tall?
  • Affordable to whom? Won’t it displace people?
  • Will we really get the infrastructure (schools, transit, etc) that we need?
  • How can we preserve the history and character of Gowanus?
  • Isn’t this really just real-estate developers making out like bandits? Aren’t you just a sell-out to developers? (Spoiler: It’s long been my policy not to take any campaign contributions from developers in Gowanus, and I’ve stopped taking contributions from real estate developers altogether).

We’ve got some answers to these and other questions on our Gowanus FAQ page. (And if you have a question we haven’t answered there, please e-mail it to me at lander@council.nyc.gov.)

Finally, I also want to let you know about some of the areas where I’m not yet satisfied, where we need to keep pushing for commitments from City Hall as the rezoning moves through the public process:

  • NYCHA: The Gowanus Rezoning must generate significant resources — millions of dollars — to improve NYCHA’s nearby Gowanus, Wyckoff Gardens, and Warren Street Houses and connect public housing residents to opportunities in the new neighborhood.
  • Schools & transit: We’ve built several new school capacity projects in the area in recent years (PS 133, PS 118, PS 32 expansion, a new pre-K building on 9th Street), but we’ll need many more seats and new transit investments, too. We can sustain this growth, but only if we provide the infrastructure.
  • Historic preservation: The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition has identified a gallery of buildings worth preserving. We need a real plan for preserving historic buildings amidst new development, and for helping future generations to connect to that history.
  • Industrial Business Zone: More opportunities must be provided for businesses to grow, thrive, and create good jobs in the IBZ.
  • Sustainability & resilience: The proposal includes strong attention to climate change. But at this moment, we must push ourselves to do everything we possibly can … and then some. The canal cleanup cannot be compromised in any way. And every new building should be required to include solar power or a green roof.

There are many ways to make your voice heard in the process. You can give testimony at the hearing about the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement on Thursday April 25th, any time between 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. at MS 51, or e-mail your comments to City Planning at gowanus@planning.nyc.gov. Community Board 6 will be holding extensive conversations about many aspects of the plan. And I’ll read your comments if you send them to me atlander@council.nyc.gov.

We’ve got a long way to go, but the picture is starting to come into view. For now, I hope you’ll keep an open mind, and let me know what questions you have.

With gratitude for representing a community willing to have honest conversations about the hard issues,

Brad