City adds MTA station air rights sale to Gowanus rezoning

Garfield Substation
The Garfield Substation at 276 Fourth Ave., near Garfield Place.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

City planning gurus added the sale of more than a football field’s worth of publicly-owned air rights to the Gowanus rezoning application, documents reveal.

Officials plan on hawking 51,000 square feet of newly-generated development rights at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Garfield Substation at 276 Fourth Ave., near Garfield Place, according to the rezoning’s lengthy Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The station — which powers the Fourth Avenue subway lines including the D, N, and R trains — would remain active, but the sale of valuable air rights newly-generated by the rezoning could allow an adjacent landowner to build up, adding that area to their development along the proposed Fourth Avenue corridor.

The lot’s current zoning only allows for manufacturing uses. 

The Garfield Substation seen from above.Department of City Planning

The Garfield Substation is one of only two so-called dispositions of public property that are rolled into the massive rezoning proposal, which promises to enable the creation of 8,500 new housing units, including some 3,000 below market rate, in the gritty neighborhood by 2035.

The other is the much more high-profile Gowanus Green development, which would allow for a 950-unit affordable housing complex on the publicly-owned and toxic Public Place site at Smith and Fifth streets.

Officials with the Department of City Planning, the rezoning’s lead agency, have widely touted the sale of Public Place as a way to boost cheaper housing in the area sandwiched in between wealthy Park Slope and Carroll Gardens in presentations to locals dating back to 2019.

Despite numerous meetings with local Community Board 6 since reviving the rezoning last fall after a pandemic pause, DCP reps did not disclose the Garfield Substation air rights sale until dumping the 26-chapter DEIS — a mandatory document under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure analyzing potential impacts of the rezoning — on April 19, and presenting the full scale project to the City Planning Commission later that day.

The rezoning was also stalled in court for three months after a group of opponents under the moniker Voice of Gowanus sued the city claiming virtual ULURP meetings amid the pandemic were illegal, but a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge let officials proceed with some conditions last month

The roughly 6,000-square-foot lot of the substation is owned by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and leased to New York City Transit, according to the DEIS.

The city’s quasi-public business boosting arm the Economic Development Corporation requested the air rights sale be included in the Gowanus rezoning, according to the documents.

EDC has overseen other such deals in the past, such as the disposition of 98,446 square feet in unusable development rights below the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo to Rabsky Group for $17.2 million, allowing the Brooklyn company to add that square footage to their mixed-use tower at 69 Adams St.

A DCP spokesman Joe Marvilli declined to provide more information on the sale than was already available in the DEIS and EDC did not respond for comment.

MTA spokesman Shams Tarek declined to provide any specific plans for the air rights, but said in a prepared statement: “The MTA regularly works with city and private partners to maximize benefits for the transit system and surrounding communities, and we are in talks with EDC that are consistent with this commitment.” 

The Gowanus rezoning will go before community boards 2 and 6 for a purely advisory recommendation sometime before June 28 as the first step of public input under ULURP