The Department of City Planning released Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood in June 2018, a Draft Rezoning Proposal in January 2019, and the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Statement in March 2019. For Brad’s fuller assessment of the current state of the Gowanus Rezoning, click here.
Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning FAQs (updated March 26, 2019)
Brad believes the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning is an opportunity to build a more affordable, integrated, vibrant, and sustainable community than the one we have today. There are understandable reasons for the resistance that people feel to rezonings. And we still have substantial work to do on critical issues including investing in the nearby NYCHA developments, strengthening the Industrial Business Zone, and more. But as someone who’s spent his whole career fighting for livable neighborhoods and community-based planning, Brad believes we have a real chance to get the balance right here.
We’ve tried here to answer some of your questions. If you have ones we have not addressed here, e-mail us at email@example.com.
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.
But there’s still more to do. At this moment, we must push ourselves to do everything we possibly can — and then some. One idea we are still pushing: every new building should be required to include solar panels or a green roof.
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 projected 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 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.
The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition has identified a gallery of buildings worth preserving. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently reviewing these buildings, and has promised a response by June 2019. Brad is committed to winning commitments to preserve the overwhelming majority of these buildings (and to helping connect future Canal residents and visitors to that history through historic interpretation and placemaking strategies like a walking/wayfinding tour).
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.