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District 39

Brad Lander

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

(This FAQ was last updated October 2020. For an overview of the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning and how Brad is thinking about it, please visit here. We’ve tried here to answer some of your questions. If you have ones we have not addressed here, e-mail us at lander@council.nyc.gov.)

What’s going on with the Gowanus rezoning? Is it happening?

After putting the land use review process on hold at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Mayor’s office announced their intention to begin the formal review process – ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Process) – for the Gowanus rezoning in January 2021. Once the proposal is certified, the ULURP “clock” starts, and the process will take six to eight months. While there will be many opportunities for public engagement throughout ULURP, my office is working closely with the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice to ensure that the community has as much information about the proposal as possible in advance of certification. DCP will present new information to Community Board Six at public meetings scheduled on November 19 and December 2, with potential additional dates to come.

How will the public process be inclusive while we are still social distancing?

So much of our local democracy relies on in-person meetings, town halls, rallies and other gatherings. COVID safety restrictions, while absolutely essential to our public health, have posed a real challenge for democratic decision making. After the abrupt shutdown in March, the City began slowly to adapt and relaunch public processes. Community boards, including CB6, began meeting via Zoom or other platforms, the City Council resumed hearings online with live broadcasting, and the City Council and Planning Commission have relaunched the ULURP process after close to half a year. 

 

In some cases, online engagement has increased participation. It’s easier (though still not easy!) for many people to attend evening meetings virtually than to coordinate child care or work schedules in order to travel to and attend in person.  Zoom functions like the Q+A and chat offer new ways for the public to interact and comment during meetings. However, virtual meetings also present barriers for the many New Yorkers who lack easy access to the internet and necessary devices, or who are simply less adept with technology. We must ensure that these neighbors can participate in remote meetings. The Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice is holding space for socially distanced, in-person group Zoom participation. They have also called for live broadcasting and call-in opportunities for public meetings. We are working with Community Board Six and our agency partners to make the most of new digital capabilities and provide as many alternatives as possible to maximize participation opportunities. 

 

In addition to meetings and presentations, you can always provide input and ask questions by reaching out to Julia in my office at jehrman@council.nyc.gov, or submit comments to CB6 via this comment form.

Is this plan still relevant given the COVID crisis?

COVID-19, and it’s extreme mismanagement at every level, has brought about compounded crises, from public health, to housing, food access, childcare and economic security. Our first priority must be to stop the spread of the virus and meet essential needs. But we also have a responsibility to chart a path forward out of the economic crisis, and build a far more equitable and resilient future.

Long-term infrastructure investments can help create jobs and economic stimulus in the short term, and the affordable housing and resilient infrastructure we need in the long term. In Gowanus, our years-long community planning process has resulted in a shared set of priorities to guide this growth. The proposal now includes thoughtful planning approaches to increase permanent affordable housing, build new public open space, generate investment in new schools and transit infrastructure, preserve industrial and creative space, and apply new energy standards and stormwater management requirements to all new development. Rather than diminish its relevance, COVID has underscored the importance of this thoughtful, community-led planning that can help our economic recovery, provide jobs for those who have been hit the hardest, and meet the needs of our communities for years to come.

COVID has also underlined the urgency of addressing the dilapidated and hazardous conditions in NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens, and Warren Street Houses, which the rezoning must do. This kind of economic stimulus must not come at the expense of those most impacted by the downturn, which is why it’s so important that we get Gowanus right.

What about the calls for a racial impact study of all rezonings? Shouldn’t we wait for that?

I support calls for fundamental reforms to our land use process and environmental review methodology, and have signed on to the proposed legislation that would require racial impact analysis for all rezonings. However, It doesn’t take a full study to see that the racial and economic context in Gowanus is different from previous deBlasio rezonings. As the first neighborhood rezoning to apply mandatory inclusionary housing in a whiter and wealthier community, the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning would generate the only permanent below-market-rate housing outside of NYCHA in the area, and increase the proportion of affordable to market-rate units. Rather than accelerate displacement pressures by adding unprecedented densities of high-rent housing in low income communities of color, the Gowanus rezoning asks a more privileged community to absorb growth and welcome lower income neighbors.

As a long time housing advocate and planner, I view the Gowanus neighborhood rezoning as an opportunity to put fair housing principles into action. Over the 10 years since this conversation began, we’ve seen as-of-right development fill the neighborhood with hotels, axe-throwing bars, climbing gyms, night clubs and big box retail. Without a plan in place, the neighborhood will continue to become a playground for the wealthy, with growth through individual private rezonings that cannot generate the significant infrastructure investments this community needs. The rezoning gives us a chance at something different.

All this said, without funding for capital repairs to NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens, the Gowanus rezoning would fail from a racial equity standpoint. These buildings, along with Warren Street Houses, are the neighborhood’s only current source of affordable housing, and overwhelmingly home to Black and Latino residents. Racist policies and years of neglect have left these buildings in dilapidated, unsafe conditions. NYCHA residents must benefit from the change to the neighborhood brought on by this land use action, and I will not vote to approve any plan that does not include significant resources for capital repairs in these developments.

What’s happening with the Superfund clean up and brownfield remediation? Is this a safe place to build?

The Gowanus Canal received EPA Superfund designation in 2010, launching a near-decade long research and planning process to determine the appropriate “remedy” for decontaminating the Canal and protecting the waterway from future pollution. Through the Superfund program, National Grid and the City of New York City (in addition to approximately 25 other “Potentially Responsible Parties” or PRPs) are responsible for executing the cleanup, with detailed oversight by the U.S. EPA and the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

In September of 2013, The U.S. EPA issued its Record of Decision - a $500 million dollar plan for removing contaminated sediment from the bottom of the canal, preventing recontamination through adjacent sites, and significantly reducing CSOs in the canal through the construction of two new retention tanks. After pilot testing beginning in 2018, the EPA issued an executive order in January 2020 to launch the first phase of dredging in the upper canal, which will begin this November. This Gowanus Canal Superfund Fact Sheet provides a helpful summary of the steps that will be taken. In addition to canal cleanup, the Superfund designation includes a requirement for National Grid to remediate the former Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) site, commonly known as Public Place, with oversight by DEC (detailed updates here). Remediation of this site began in July of 2019 and is expected to be completed by mid 2021. The Gowanus Green development team will be responsible for additional remediation to meet safety standards for all housing, school, and park uses proposed for the site. 

The Gowanus Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed shortly after the site received superfund designation to allow for citizen and stakeholder oversight. The CAG holds monthly public meetings to review progress updates from EPA, DEC, and the PRPs, and provide input. CAG members include local and citywide environmental stewardship organizations, neighborhood advocates, community groups, and residents. You can find up-to-date videos and information from their meetings on their website, and a thorough archive of relevant resources. 

The Superfund cleanup will dramatically improve conditions in the Canal, but nothing can be built along its shores without additional remediation to ensure that each site is safe for its intended uses. The Gowanus rezoning would expand the e-designation on contaminated sites in the area, which requires individual property owners to remediate hazardous materials according to City standards. This applies on private sites as well as public sites. Developers will also be subject to increased stormwater management requirements, thanks to a new 2021 Unified Stormwater Rule, to prevent any additional CSOs in the canal.

Why can’t we just leave Gowanus alone? I like it the way it is!

One important goal of the Gowanus rezoning is to preserve and strengthen what makes Gowanus a compelling place today. But inaction will not maintain the neighborhood as it is today. Current zoning regulations allow the building of more nightclubs, hotels, and self-storage, all of which have been growing. Without a rezoning, increasing real estate pressure and rising rents will continue to threaten the creativity and local jobs that characterize Gowanus today.

We should also be honest about what we would be preserving if we don’t allow new residential development. Axe-throwing, bars, and cross-fit are all a lot of fun. But in a moment when we are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, we should think hard about what our shared responsibility is. By rezoning Gowanus, we can create substantial new opportunities for a more affordable, inclusive, and integrated neighborhood — while still keeping much of the “Gowanus mix” that we love.

Finally, over time, if we do not adopt a broader neighborhood rezoning, owners will begin bringing rezoning proposals for individual sites. If that happens, we’ll still get upzoning and development, but without a broader planning process to make sure investments in infrastructure, transportation, and open public spaces are in place.

Do the buildings really need to be 22 stories tall (even 30 on one block, on the west side of the Canal, south of 5th Street)?

Under the new mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) program, privately-owned properties that are rezoned must set aside one quarter of the apartments and make them permanently affordable to low-income families. The larger the buildings, the more permanently affordable apartments will be built. If we simply connected the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens with brownstones and row-houses, some people might like the contextual heights better; but we would generate little if any affordable housing.

In addition to building 25% permanently affordable apartments, the property-owners along the Gowanus Canal are responsible for environmental remediation, building a waterfront esplanade, climate-resilient buildings and landscape, and preserving the “Gowanus mix” of uses, including light-manufacturing, arts, artisan, maker-space, and not-for-profit uses. These are among the most aggressive set of requirements ever imposed on developers in the United States. And yes, a trade-off for that is additional density, so that the projects still make sense for developers to build.

There are also urban design reasons to allow taller buildings. To support an open, public waterfront esplanade, and to keep low base heights along Bond Street to match the Carroll Gardens context, while still achieving enough density to include affordable housing and required infrastructure investments, it is necessary to push up the allowable heights.

Will we really get the infrastructure (schools, transit, sewers, etc.) that we need? Isn’t our infrastructure already strained?

With 100 year-old infrastructure, well-loved schools at or near capacity, crowded subway platforms, and street flooding, of course we worry about whether there will be enough school seats, open space, and transit to accommodate new neighbors.

For the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning to work, it must include significant infrastructure investments.

Some of that is already underway. We’ve built several new school capacity projects in the area in recent years: PS 133 (600 new seats), PS 118 (350), a new pre-K center slated for 9th Street (180), and the PS 32 expansion (436). New high-level storm sewers on 3rd Avenue and a planned project for 9th Street and 2nd Avenue will address flooding. New tanks as part of the Superfund project will address CSO overflow into the Canal.

But we will indeed need many more school seats, new transit capacity, and other infrastructure investments to sustain the anticipated growth.

The first step to assessing and addressing those needs is the “environmental impact statement” (EIS), which begins with a “Draft Scope of Work,” which describes the rezoning proposal, how much new development it would allow, and the technical areas that will be analyzed (i.e. impacts on schools, transit, open space, etc). The NYC Department of City Planning will hold a hearing on the DSOW on Thursday April 25, 2019, starting at 4:00 pm, at MS 51.

Is Gowanus really a sustainable place to build, given that the Canal is polluted, and that it flooded during Hurricane Sandy?

Out of a legacy of industrial pollution, we can create one of NYC’s greenest and most resilient neighborhoods, with the highest standards for new development. The denser, livable, walkable 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.

We do have 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, that reduce combined sewer overflows (CSO) into the canal, auto-dependence, and fossil fuel usage. In pursuit of that goal, plans for Gowanus include:

  • Requirements for new development along the canal to meet more stringent standards for climate resilient development and to elevate the shoreline to protect against long-term daily tidal flooding while allowing for access to the waterfront;
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) infrastructure upgrades including recently completed sewer construction as well as planning, design and property acquisition for infrastructure to reduce sewage entering the Canal. This work and additional planned City investments complement the federal Superfund cleanup of the Canal that is well underway;
  • Measures for remediation of brownfield sites to safely accommodate new development.
  • Standards set in a Gowanus Waterfront Access Plan to ensure creation of continuous, high-quality public waterfront open space with ecologically functional design across properties and street ends, including opportunities for green infrastructure to reduce the impacts of runoff;
  • A zoning transit easement on properties above subway stations along 4th Avenue to support new entrances, ADA accessibility and other station improvements – resulting in convenience for commuters and a more transit oriented and energy efficient neighborhood.

One thing we can be excited about: under new city laws, all the new buildings will have rooftop solar, wind, or green roofs.

But there’s still more to do. At this moment, we must push ourselves to do everything we possibly can — and then some.

Affordable to whom?

For privately-owned sites (which will generate most of the 3,000 anticipated affordable units), developers would be required under the City’s mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) policy to develop 25% of the building to be affordable to families at or below 60% of the NYC area-median income ($56,340 for a family of 3) with 10% of the building at or below 40% of AMI ($37,560 for a family of 3). More on NYC’s affordability guidelines here.

The “Public Place” site is a City-owned lot that will ultimately include a public park on the waterfront, a school, retail, community facility, and all of its 900 units will be affordable housing, at an even wider range of incomes, with some units available for extremely-low income families ($28,170 for a family of 3), as well as for low, moderate, and middle-income ones. The project would be developed by the “Gowanus Green” development team, which includes the not-for-profit, community-based Fifth Avenue Committee, as well as Jonathan Rose Companies, Hudson Companies, and the Bluestone Organization.

Won’t it displace people?

Gowanus would be the first “mandatory inclusionary housing” (MIH) neighborhood re-zoning proposed for a whiter, wealthier neighborhood. Unlike some of the other MIH neighborhoods so far, there’s relatively little risk of displacing current low-income tenants. (Unfortunately, that is largely because much of the privately-owned, rent-stabilized buildings housing low-income tenants experienced gentrification years ago).

The rezoning is carefully tailored not to put rent-stabilized buildings at risk. To further mitigate any displacement, working together with the City, we have already put in place a “Certificate of No Harassment” zone, where developers of at-risk occupied buildings have to prove they did not harass or displace tenants before they can get building permits.

As a result, we can create a real model for an integrated neighborhood, with diverse schools, and a vibrant community life, right here in the middle of Brownstone Brooklyn.

How can we preserve much of the character and history of Gowanus?

The rezoning proposal contains the makings of a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood, including artists and light-manufacturing businesses, with a mix of new development and preservation, 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 Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) south of Third Street will be preserved and strengthened.

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.

Additionally, we have now completed the landmarking of five historic buildings and will continue working with advocates and the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition to expand this list. The wonderful Powerhouse Arts building is already being redeveloped as a nonprofit facility that will house fabrication and production in wood, metal, ceramic, textile and print.

What about artists? The current arts community in Gowanus is one of its best things going. How can we preserve it?

As a result of strong voices from the community, the Gowanus rezoning is genuinely mixed-use. Many of the mid-block areas will be preserved for industrial and commercial uses. Along the canal and around Thomas Green Park, there would be space reserved for the “Gowanus mix” of light-manufacturing, arts, artisan, maker-space, and not-for-profit uses. The PowerHouse Arts Center will provide a contemporary arts center and fabrication facility.

Brad is also committed to strengthening the nearby Gowanus Industrial Business Zone so business can grow and thrive there. A planning process is currently underway for the IBZ, for infrastructure investments, land-use actions, and workforce development that would allow job-generating businesses, artists, artisans, and manufacturers to grow and thrive there for many years to come.

Isn’t this really just real-estate developers making out like bandits? Isn’t Brad just selling out to developers?

Brad has spent his whole career working for livable neighborhoods, community-based planning, and affordable housing. Much of that time has spent battling developers to reform the wasteful 421-a tax break, require housing affordability, push back against corruption, strengthen protections for tenants, workers, and neighbors, and make sure that the voice of neighborhoods are heard. Brad’s long-standing policy has been not to take political contributions from developers in Gowanus, and he recently stopped taking contributions from real estate developers altogether.

It is true, of course, that within a capitalist system, where most of the property is owned by private owners, we are stuck trying to solve our hardest problems — affordable housing, segregation, climate change — through policies that shape and leverage private development. We might be able to achieve more if we could expropriate all the private property along the canal, and develop it without recognizing land costs or return expectations. But for the world we currently live in, the requirements for 25% affordable housing, a waterfront esplanade, climate-resilient buildings and landscape, and the “Gowanus mix” of uses is among the most aggressive set of requirements ever imposed on developers in the United States. And yes, a trade-off is additional density, so that the projects still make sense for developers to build.

There is room for honest disagreement here, which is why Brad has worked hard to have one of the most inclusive, extensive, community-based planning processed in NYC’s history. Those who prefer no new development in Gowanus, or imagine connecting Park Slope to Carroll Gardens with brownstone-scale buildings, have a fair point-of-view. But residents can count on the fact that Brad’s view on the rezoning is shaped entirely by his values, experience, analysis of what is feasible, and vision for the future of the community.