The CPC voted 9-0 in favor of the proposal, which would pave the way for roughly 8,200 new apartments by 2035. The plan will now head to the City Council for final binding vote within the next 50 days.
New York’s City Planning Commission backed a plan to transform an 82-block swath of Gowanus on Wednesday, moving the contentious rezoning application to the City Council for a final binding vote later this year.
The CPC voted 9-0 in favor of the proposal, which would pave the way for roughly 8,200 new apartments by 2035, including 3,000 reserved for people making a percentage of area median income under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. One member, Larisa Ortiz, abstained from the vote.
“As our housing crisis continues to grow, and in the face of a deadly virus, this proposal means 8,000 new homes—3,000 of them affordable—and a modern and sustainable mixed-income community that will allow people to live, work and play in a green Gowanus, for generations to come,” said CPC Vice Chair Ken Knuckles, who led the meeting after the previous chair, Marisa Lago, was nominated for a role in the U.S. Commerce Department.
The City Council now has 50 days to vote on the measure under the rules of New York’s Universal Land Use Review Procedure. A spokesperson said the Council has not yet set a date for the vote.
The proposed rezoning covers the area bound by Bond Street to the west, 4th Avenue to the east, Baltic Street to the north and Huntington, 3rd, 7th and 15th streets to the south.
The plan has divided Gowanus residents, with many community leaders offering their tentative support in order to increase the neighborhood’s affordable housing stock, so long as the city commits to funding capital repairs at two NYCHA campuses near the project area. Other residents, like members of the group Voice of Gowanus, oppose the rezoning and say adding taller residential buildings and more people will alter the character of the low-slung community while giving up too much control to private developers.
Opponents have also raised concerns about environmental dangers in and around the polluted Gowanus Canal and say the plan should be subject to an independent environmental impact study. Remediation work on the canal—like efforts to scoop out “black mayonnaise” toxic sludge—is underway, and additional strategies are included in the rezoning application.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez joined many of those opponents in calling for the city to redo its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the rezoning, saying the existing DEIS was based on “outdated” rainfall data from 2008 and so fails to take into account the recent impact of climate change, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida.
The city insists that climate resiliency protections built into the plan, along with new city requirements for stormwater management, will “more than offset” the strain on the sewer system that the rezoning’s population increase would bring. Velázquez and others also slammed the city for failing to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order to build Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) retention tanks as part of the canal’s cleanup.
“It is abundantly clear that the City cannot assure that sewer overflows won’t be increased and therefore compromise the cleanup and health of the canal and local residents and workers,” Velázquez wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The tanks should be the bare minimum.”
At this point, however, the most consequential opinion is that of Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents most of the area included in the proposed rezoning (Councilmember Stephen Levin represents a small piece). The full Council traditionally votes in lockstep with the local member on land use issues, a custom known as “member deference.”
Lander backs the rezoning, though he has also called on the city to fund at least $132 million in needed improvements at the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens Houses.
“Now that the City Planning Commission has voted and the application is moving to the Council, it is crunch time to ensure equity and sustainability in the plan for Gowanus,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I’ll keep working to secure commitments on key priorities that the community has identified, including significant funding for NYCHA repairs and crucial infrastructure improvements to prevent pollution and flooding.”
Brooklyn Community Board 6, which covers most of the area included in the rezoning, voted in favor of the proposal in June, with several stipulations, including the NYCHA funding. In contrast, Brooklyn Community Board 2, which represents a small portion of the rezoning area, voted against the plan in June.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, also supports the rezoning, with the condition that the city either fund the NYCHA needs on its own or come up with a scheme to sell public housing air rights to developers and use the proceeds to cover the cost of repairs.
“New York City is always changing, but every once in a while we need a sea change,” Adams said in August. “Buildings cannot go up around NYCHA developments while residents see their futures go down.”
The Gowanus plan marks the first time Mayor de Blasio has pursued a neighborhood-level upzoning in a predominantly white community where resident incomes tend to exceed the citywide average. A concurrent plan to upzone a chunk of SoHo and NoHo would also add thousands of new apartments, including some below market-rate, to a predominantly white neighborhood where average incomes more than double the citywide rate.
The city’s MIH strategy mandates that developers in rezoned communities set aside a percentage of apartment space for New Yorkers earning less than the area median income. But a recent study by the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development found that de Blasio’s signature land use policy has only fueled gentrification in lower-income neighborhoods of color—like East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor—because the MIH income bands still exceed the income level of many existing residents, pricing them out of new developments and threatening to raise rents in the surrounding community.
A study commissioned by housing organization Fifth Avenue Committee, which supports the Gowanus rezoning, found that the proposal would likely increase racial and economic diversity in the Brooklyn neighborhood, however.
The “Racial Equity Report on Housing and Opportunity” was completed by urban planning expert Lance Freeman, a professor at Columbia University. Starting next year, every neighborhood-level rezoning will be subject to a racial impact report under a new measure passed by the City Council in June.
“In sum, because of the scale of the affordable housing proposal as a percentage of overall projected development (35%), the affordability of this housing (nearly all 80 AMI or below), and the location of Gowanus within a high-opportunity neighborhood with low-risk of displacement, the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan as outlined in the rezoning proposal has the clear potential to be a net positive for racial equity, increasing racial integration and countering local exclusionary development trends,” the report states.