Preliminary plans for a barren swath of city-owned land in Gowanus would transform the site with a mix of middle- to high-rise housing, but locals are divided on the development.
An at times raucous Brooklyn Community Board 6 meeting on Monday showcased residents varied concerns on a more than decade in the making project city officials aim to shepherd through the public review process as part of the neighborhood’s forthcoming rezoning.
The 5.8-acre site, bounded roughly by Smith Street and the Gowanus Canal between Nelson and Fifth streets, was once a manufactured gas plant. The coal-tar contaminated land sat empty for decades until the city acquired it, designating the plot a “public place.”
Such a provision prohibits residential development unless the land is rezoned, and neighbors who had hoped the site would largely convert into parkland with low-rise buildings were skeptical of the latest vision for the “Gowanus Green” project with seven buildings that could rise from five up to 28 stories. Others fear the development would “wreck” the neighborhood with “too tall” structures and not enough infrastructure to support a wave of new residents. Officials stressed that the details are still in flux as they continue to strike a balance between community needs and concerns.
“It’s been a messy conversation for the past three years; there has been a difference of opinions,” Jonathan Keller, a project manager with the Department of City Planning, said during Monday’s community board meeting. “We tried to balance those throughout the rezoning area and, specifically on this site when it comes to scale, we’ve kept things low on the perimeter, taller in the middle, and we’re still discussing our affordability.”
In 2008, a development team made up of Hudson Companies, Jonathan Rose Companies, Bluestone Organization, and the Fifth Avenue Committee were selected by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to realize the project. Gowanus Green would likely be the area’s largest affordable housing development and is on the doorstep of Carroll Gardens, one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the country.
As currently designed, the development would include 950 apartments, a public school, retail and community space, and a variety of resiliency measures to defend against flooding. The project could be entirely affordable, or at least have 74 percent of its units at below-market-rate, according to Aaron Koffman, the principal at Hudson Companies. That exact affordability breakdown is still in the works, but Jay Marcus with the Fifth Avenue Committee says it would likely start with apartments eligible to those making 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) annually and top out with units available to those earning 120 percent of the AMI.
“This is a very unique opportunity for us to creat a really substantial number of affordable apartments,” said Simon Kawitzky, an assistant commissioner with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “There are very limited choices for that level of affordable housing in these communities.”
The public review for the project will be bundled into the Gowanus rezoning to boost density and encourage mix-used projects along certain corridors of the neighborhood. City planners expect the rezoning to create a whopping 8,200 new apartments by 2035.
“The purpose of the new density is to make it possible for people—working class folks, low- to-moderate income folks—who cannot possibly afford a unit in the district,” said City Council member Brad Lander, who represents the area and will have an outsized influence on the final City Council vote on the rezoning. “That’s why to me this achieves a public purpose.”
The development team behind Gowanus Green, which is being designed by Marvel Architects and SCAPE, has yet to determine the amount of seats the new school will include and for which grade levels it will serve. Another section of the lot will be a park but the design of that space is expected to take shape once the project receives approvals, according to an official briefed on the project.
The Department of Environmental Protection will oversee the remediation of the land, which is a Brownfield site due to its history as a manufactured gas plant.