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City releases Gowanus rezoning proposal, calls for denser towers, waterfront access, affordable housing

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The industrial Brooklyn neighborhood is poised for big changes

Max Touhey

Gowanus may be poised for major changes in the not-so-distant future: A potential rezoning of Gowanus has been in the cards for several years, and today, the city finally unveiled its proposal for the Brooklyn neighborhood.

“We’ve been listening to, learning from and working with neighborhood residents, businesses, community organizations and elected officials. There’s a consistent message: grow smart and grow green,” Marisa Lago, the commissioner of the Department of City Planning, said in a statement. The rezoning proposal, she says, “will assure that the Gowanus that we love today will remain a vibrant mixed-use community for generations of Brooklynites to come.”

The proposal is based off of the framework prepared by DCP over the summer, and builds off of some of the key points of that framework: creating more (and affordable) housing, prioritizing space for light industrial and cultural institutions, and cleaning up the Superfund-adjacent neighborhood.

Some of the key points:

  • While many parts of the neighborhood would be zoned for both residential and commercial use, some would remain exclusively dedicated to manufacturing (including some blocks adjacent to Fourth Avenue).
  • The maximum height for new buildings would be 22 stories, save for a lot at 5th and Smith streets, which could become home to a “major mixed-use development with housing reaching deeper levels of affordability and additional space for community facilities, retail and open space,” which could rise 25-30 stories.
  • DCP will mandate not only affordable housing for new residential developments through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) provision—including on Fourth Avenue, which was previously rezoned—but also publicly-accessible waterfront space for any canal-adjacent developments.
  • The city will allow “flexible building envelopes” along the canal to encourage diverse, good design.
  • Brownfield clean-up will be prioritized.
  • Zoning rules will be relaxed above transit stations (like 4th Avenue-9th Street) to allow for denser buildings, while bringing in improvements to subway stations (including ones that would make them ADA compliant).

The full rezoning draft can be read here.

City Council member Brad Lander, who represents Gowanus and has been closely involved in creating the rezoning plan, expressed his support for the draft, calling it “a strong next step toward the sustainable, inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood that the community has been envisioning for many years.”

“I know that not everyone is excited about the idea of new residential and commercial development at heights taller than the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods,” he said in a statement. “But I genuinely believe we are on the way to getting the balance right.”

Now that the rezoning proposal is out, the city can begin the long uniform land use review procedure (ULURP), which could take some time to complete. The first step in that is undertaking an environmental review of the neighborhood—sure to be a tricky undertaking, given the canal’s industrial history and Superfund status.

For community members who want to hear about the plan in more depth, DCP will present the proposal at a public meeting on February 6 at PS 32 in Brooklyn.