I know that many of you are skeptical of rezonings, and with good reason. Too often, rezonings have displaced low-income and working-class tenants, strained existing infrastructure, enriched speculators and developers, and changed neighborhoods with little input or benefit for existing residents. Our city’s reactive planning process too rarely provides a meaningful opportunity for neighbors to shape the future of their community or achieve our broader, long-term, public goals.
I want to explain why – if we get it right – the Gowanus rezoning could be different, and could genuinely deliver a more inclusive, affordable, sustainable, and economically vibrant neighborhood, right at the time we need it.
There is still significant work to do to ensure that the City meets the goals articulated by community members and the demands of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice. Top on that list, and a bottom-line for my support, must be significant investment in capital repairs – with meaningful resident engagement – for the NYCHA housing developments that are directly adjacent to the rezoning area. We simply cannot build a mix of brand new market-rate and affordable housing, while leaving the overwhelming majority of low-income residents and people of color who live in the area today in dilapidated and deteriorating buildings next door..
We’re not there yet, but here’s why I think we are within reach of a Gowanus rezoning that can genuinely achieve the community’s goals:
The Gowanus rezoning plan is the product of deep and extensive community outreach and engagement between 2013 and 2020. We’ve had well over 50 public meetings, large forums and small working groups, in public housing developments, churches, parks, and business, with hundreds of homeowners, tenants, artists, environmentalists, small business owners, and everyone else. If you’ve engaged with our office, you know how deeply we value broad and genuine public participation. Gowanus has been a model of it.
Read more about Community Engagement in Gowanus
Unlike other de Blasio rezonings, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) in Gowanus would actually further our fair housing goals, increasing the proportion of affordable housing in the area, with little displacement risk. The approximately 2000 MIH units would be affordable to families earning from $30,000 to $100,000, with two-bedroom rents split roughly evenly between $854 (40% AMI), $1,356 (60% AMI), and $1,878 (80% AMI) – far below what is available in the area today. They would be permanently affordable. In addition to MIH requirements, approximately 1000 new units of affordable housing – including supportive housing and senior housing with even lower rents – would be built on Gowanus Green (aka Public Place) following a complete remediation. See the City’s latest update on Gowanus Green here.
Too often, rezonings have displaced low-income and working-class tenants, strained existing infrastructure, enriched speculators and developers, and changed neighborhoods with little input or benefit for existing residents. Our city’s reactive planning process too rarely provides a meaningful opportunity for neighbors to shape the future of their community or achieve our broader, long-term, public goals. The plan for Gowanus is the product of deep community engagement and is a rare opportunity to bring more affordability to a neighborhood that is currently inaccessible to the majority of New Yorkers.
The plan includes a strong set of measures to create a sustainable and resilient neighborhood in the face of climate change. An aggressive new stormwater rule will mean fewer CSOs into the Gowanus Canal, complementing the EPA’s Superfund remediation process. Brownfields on public and private development sites will be remediated. All new buildings will have rooftop solar, wind, or green roofs. Not only the buildings, but also a vibrant new waterfront esplanade will be designed with the highest coastal flood resiliency standards ever imposed in New York City. In combination with the Superfund cleanup, the plan will transform the canal’s legacy of contamination environmental degradation into one of ecological restoration, health, and climate resilience.
The plan includes innovative zoning tools for new transit and school infrastructure to meet the demands of growth. Community engagement has ensured that the rezoning will generate investment in new school seats, transit accessibility improvements, and vibrant new parks and open space. We’ve already won substantial city capital investments in increased sewer capacity, improvements to local parks, and school facilities, and we will push for any needed upgrades identified in the EIS.
Read more about how the plan addresses infrastructure needs
The plan will keep Gowanus creative and mixed-use. The rezoning would codify a unique new “Gowanus Mix” use group in the zoning text, generating dedicated space for light manufacturing, arts, and nonprofits. Mid-block areas (between Nevins, Third, and Fourth Avenues) will remain zoned only for industrial and commercial uses. The Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) south of Third Street will be preserved and strengthened. Additionally, we have now completed the landmarking of five historic buildings and will continue working with advocates 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.
Read more about preserving arts and industry in Gowanus
Let’s remember: if the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning does not advance, there will still be new development in our community. Rather than a more integrated, affordable and sustainable neighborhood, we would see the acceleration of new hotels, ax-throwing bars, crossfit gyms and storage sites, all of which are allowed by the current zoning, with no requirements for affordability, climate resilience, or infrastructure investment. Developers would bring individual private applications for upzoning and residential development, but without a public plan they won’t bring investments in infrastructure, open space, and other community priorities.
Three thousand new units of permanently affordable housing, a continuous public esplanade along the waterfront, climate-resilient buildings and landscaping, and use restrictions to preserve our “Gowanus mix” of arts and industry are among the most aggressive, forward-looking set of requirements ever imposed on developers in the United States.
The challenge we are facing in the coming years as we seek a just and vibrant economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is to ensure that we build a city that is more affordable, more integrated, and more resilient, with more good, green jobs for all. If we get Gowanus right, and we still have some demands to win, this plan can help us bring that brighter future together.