NYC Council approves sweeping Gowanus rezoning

November 24, 2021

Photo by bobistraveling on Flickr

The New York City Council on Tuesday approved the biggest rezoning of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration just weeks before his term ends. In a near-unanimous vote, the Council approved plans to upzone 82 blocks of Gowanus, a former industrial hub turned affluent residential neighborhood. As the first rezoning of de Blasio’s administration in a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood, the decision could pave the way for upzoning in similar communities, including the proposal to rezone Soho and Noho, scheduled for a vote next month.

“Rezoning Gowanus – and unlocking a high-opportunity, transit-rich neighborhood in the heart of Brooklyn for new generations of New Yorkers – is a transformative step toward building a recovery for all of us,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Thanks to years of hard work from city agencies, elected officials, advocates, and Gowanus residents, we’re finally bringing this neighborhood the jobs, housing, and open space it deserves.”

In the works for over a decade, the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan applies to the area around the Gowanus Canal, a toxic Superfund site in the midst of cleanup, and includes the creation of nearly 8,500 units of housing, with roughly 3,000 of them designated affordable, new parkland, and four acres of open waterfront space.

The rezoning will allow developers to build mixed-use towers up to 30 stories tall around the Canal and 17 stories tall on 4th Avenue.

It’s the first neighborhood rezoning to apply Mandatory Inclusionary Housing “in a whiter and wealthier area,” according to Council Member Brad Lander. In exchange for their vote, Lander, who represents most of the area, and Council Member Stephen Levin reached a deal earlier this month for $200 million for upgrades at nearby NYCHA developments, $174 million in sewer infrastructure upgrades, resiliency requirements, and new public spaces.

Also part of the package includes a commitment to make the city’s six-building development, Gowanus Green, 100 percent affordable. The project includes 950 units of rentals dedicated to households at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is roughly $51,200 for a family of three.

According to the city, no more than 40 percent of the housing will be for moderate-income households, which translates to an income of between $81,920 and $122,800 for a family of three. About 15 percent of units will be set aside for formerly homeless New Yorkers and about 12 percent will be for seniors aged 62 years and older.

The plan, while supported by all council members but one, has faced criticism from local communities who say the area is too polluted for development and that the plan lacks adequate affordable housing.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Voice of Gowanus coalition said the group plans to take legal action: “As Brad Lander celebrates a massive violation of state and federal law today–one that endangers the safety of our community and the environment, and bends to the interests of big real estate–we not that a certain lady has not yet sung when it comes to the Gowanus rezoning. See you in court.”

The first council vote on the Soho/Noho plan is scheduled for early December. Last month, the City Planning Commission approved the plan, which could create as many as 3,500 new homes, with 900 units of permanently affordable housing in two of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

The land-use proposal calls for an upzoning of 56 blocks in the Manhattan neighborhoods, encompassing an area bounded by Canal Street to the south, Houston Street and Astor Place to the north, Lafayette Street and the Bowery to the east, and Sixth Avenue and West Broadway to the west.

De Blasio’s rezoning efforts have largely been focused on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, such as East Harlem, East New York, Inwood, and Mott Haven.


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