City Planning officials will present details Thursday on the rezoning proposal to Brooklyn Community Board 6, after the city’s ULURP process was paused for several months during the pandemic.

Adi Talwar

A view of the Northern end of Gowanus Canal from Douglass Street

The Department of City Planning is scheduled to discuss details of how the Gowanus rezoning will move forward with Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 this Thursday during a virtual meeting, according to a newsletter announcement from the board. 

During a City and State event earlier this month, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been announced that the plan, the last rezoning under the de Blasio administration, will begin the public review process (the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP) and she expects the rezoning to be certified by January 2021.

The Gowanus rezoning is part of de Blasio’s housing plan which includes the rezoning of 15 city neighborhoods to create more density for both market-rate and affordable housing. So far the administration has successfully approved seven rezonings: East New York in Brooklyn, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, East Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan and the Bay Street Corridor in Staten Island. Efforts to rezone parts of Southern Boulevard in the Bronx and Bushwick in Brooklyn fell apart over the past year.

Additionally, the city is looking to upzone and bring affordable housing to Soho and Noho Manhattan neighborhoods. In September, a private rezoning application to expand Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn was withdrawn after several months of community contention and an outright rejection of the rezoning application by local Councilmember Carlos Menchaca.

Read More: Amid COVID and Fiscal Woes, Mayor’s Housing Plan Enters Stretch Run

The de Blasio administration’s ambitious affordable housing plan is aimed at creating or preserving 200,000 housing units across the five boroughs over a 10-year period. In 2017, the city administration upped the goal to 300,000 housing units: 120,000 new units and 180,000 preserved units by the year 2026—well past de Blasio’s second mayoral term.

When the pandemic struck, Gowanus was waiting for the completion of a draft environmental impact statement to trigger the start of the formal land-use review process. After the city shut down ULURP to avoid public gatherings amid COVID-19, there were fears the rezoning might stall for good, given the dwindling time left in de Blasio’s tenure. In July, however, the city announced it was restarting the process after a hiatus in the spring because of the COVID-19 crisis. New York will begin remote meetings through a new “virtual” portal system this month.

CB6 members had previously expressed worries about whether the Department of City Planning (DCP) would be able to meet critical demands of the community, and give the public enough time to raise concerns before the ULURP process began. 

“We are becoming concerned that the entire undertaking will be abandoned, and if not discarded that it will be rushed through without time for us to react and provide further input,” the board wrote to DCP in a June letter. The letter listed a plethora of concerns related to the rezoning, including affordability levels, NYCHA capital funding, diversity, environmental sustainability, its impact on the local Industrial Business Zone and infrastructure.

Local Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, both of whom have spearheaded the Gowanus rezoning engagement process with community stakeholders, have said it is a litmus test for the city’s ability to bring a rezoning plan with affordable housing to a upper- to middle-class neighborhood, one which includes a focus on addressing NYCHA tenants and their homes and the environmental challenges that come with climate change.

 “We welcome the announcement from Deputy Mayor Been about restarting community engagement meetings in Gowanus. If we get Gowanus right—it’s not there yet, but it’s clearly possible—it has the potential to help us move forward from this dark time toward a more equitable, sustainable, and economically vibrant city,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement emailed to City Limits. “The community planning process over the last several years has enabled us to bring together a far more comprehensive vision of what is needed in the neighborhood than we would see with piecemeal private rezoning applications.”

However, both councilmembers reiterated their support for the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition of Justice’s (GNJC) demands for the rezoning, which the group released earlier this year before the pandemic.

A top demand for GNJC that remains unaddressed by the de Blasio administration is “upfront funding for full capital needs” for NYCHA’s Warren Street Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses, and ensuring local NYCHA tenants and low-income residents are hired to complete the work. Given the financial battering the city is taking, and NYCHA’s outstanding capital needs, it’s an issue that’s even more fraught after COVID-19. Lander says without an inclusive path which addresses disparities and much-needed repairs for NYCHA complexes and residents, the rezoning could not and would not move forward. 

Another of the coalition’s demands is for the city to invest in community health and social resilience resources to address health-related disparities in the neighborhood, and to develop an inclusive emergency preparedness plan.

Levin and Landers said in a statement they’re looking forward to continuing the conversation with the city and community in order “to ensure that we have a deeply inclusive process, despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19 on in person engagement. An equitable rezoning can only come from an inclusive process.” 

Other stakeholders in the community, such as the Voice of Gowanus coalition, say ULURP should stay paused until the city can come up with a better way to hold public hearings.

“The virtual hearings and practices recently rushed into use by other city agencies indicate that, especially in the context of ULURP for an entire neighborhood, attendees’ collective power would be severely diluted through the use of an online platform,” the group wrote in an August letter to DCP Director and City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago.

The group has raised other concerns with the rezoning, saying it should halt until there is a total clean up of the Gowanus Canal and surrounding area, and they want one of the rezoning sites—a contaminated vacant city-owned site at the corner of Smith and 5th streets known as Public Place—to become a public park. 

The rezoning plan spans 80 blocks bounded by Bond Street to the west, Baltic Street to the north, 4th Avenue to the east from Pacific Street to 15th Street and cuts off near Hamilton Avenue in the South in the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone.  The city projects that the rezoning would trigger the creation of an estimated 8,200 new apartments by 2035 (you can read the details of the draft scope here).

According to CB6, board members will not make an official decision on the rezoning until there is a certified ULURP application in front of them for a vote. The board has been collecting questions from local residents and stakeholders ahead of this week’s meeting through an online form. The CB 6 meeting will take place Thursday at 6 p.m.; attendees can register here