Locals make their voices heard at hybrid Gowanus rezoning hearing

The Old Stone House in Park Slope will host music and dancing for kids!
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Dozens of locals came to a Park Slope park Thursday afternoon to voice their thoughts on the city’s controversial Gowanus rezoning as part of a court-ordered, hybrid virtual and in-person public hearing.

Residents detailed their support and concerns for the neighborhood-wide rezoning at the Old Stone House in Washington Park on Third Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, with one nearby local saying the city and politicians should approve the plans to add thousands of new housing units to the low slung mostly-industrial nabe along the toxic Gowanus Canal.

“I really believe our district should do more to build more housing for more people,” said Carroll Gardens resident Michael Thornton. “If there was more housing built in somewhere like Gowanus, our opportunities would increase and it would increase for lots of other folks in the neighborhood too.”

The city’s complex scheme covers 82 blocks of Gowanus and would allow the creation of some 8,500 new housing units, including 3,000 at below-market rates over the next 15 years, in addition to a new park along the canal and commercial and retail spaces.

The Department of City Planning — the agency overseeing the rezoning — was forced to work with the area’s community boards to come up with an in-person component for its virtual Zoom hearings as part of the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, after a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge ordered officials to better accommodate Brooklynites without internet access.

Justice Katherine Levine’s decision came after a three-month legal battle, following a lawsuit by locals opposed to the rezoning, who claimed that the city’s plan for an all-virtual ULURP process was illegal.

DCP set up television monitors and seating around the greenspace for folks to tune in, and attendees who signed up to speak could give their comments from a booth within the Old Stone House, which broadcast to the Zoom meeting.

The setup outside the Old Stone House on June 3.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Some 150 people signed up to speak, each given two-minute slots, and the agency allowed for a lengthy window to testify starting at around 4 pm and lasting until 11 pm.

In an only-in-Gowanus moment, a band named The Resistance Company started playing loud riffs on the sidewalk outside the park around 6 pm with lyrics like, “Vote No, Gowanus rezoning,” while other artists opposed to the proposal held signs beside them. 

One local artist and resident told Brooklyn Paper she was worried about environmental dangers to new residents living along the polluted canal and that the influx of new development would price her out of her apartment and the studio space she rents for her photography and music.

“Having children near a Superfund site is bad news and the displacement of local artists and musician is a real concern,” said Joan Hacker. “Where am I supposed to live, where am I supposed to go, how am I supposed to make work.”

The canal is currently undergoing a roughly 10-year Superfund Cleanup overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Ahead of the lengthy afternoon and evening hearing, a cadre of local housing, business, artist, and environmentalist groups under the banner Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice rallied outside the park, laying out three demands the city must meet to get their approval.

GNCJ’s demands include full upfront funding for the two local New York City Housing developments, Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens, which both have some $274 million in repair needs, no additional pollution through sewage and stormwater overflows, and a community task force to hold the city to its commitments under the plan.

Those asks also got the support of local councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, who could veto the project when it comes before the City Council later this year.

“When it reaches the City Council, Steve and I are committed to making sure those three core demands of GNCJ are met before we will vote in favor of any Gowanus rezoning,” said Lander at the rally. “The fact that there is still no meaningful offer on the table — honestly no offer on the table whatsoever … is unacceptable.”

Councilmembers Brad Lander (center) and Stephen Levin (right of center) addressed a rally ahead of the hearing on June 3.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The proposal will come before Community Board 6’s Land Use Committee for a recommendation on June 17, before it comes to the full board for a purely advisory vote.

The rezoning will then make its way to Borough President Eric Adams’s office for another advisory recommendation, and to the City Planning Commission and the City Council for two binding votes.