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Brand new sense of ‘openness’ - Preliminary plans to rezone Gowanus Canal are presented

The Brooklyn Paper
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City officials last week presented preliminary plans for a rezoning proposal near the Gowanus Canal, a long-anticipated plan said to increase the “openness” along the polluted waterway.

The proposal focuses on 25 blocks bounded by Third Street to the south, Bond Street to the west, Fourth Avenue to the east, and generally Sackett Street as well as four additional blocks on the west side of the canal up to Baltic to the north. The area would be re-zoned from manufacturing to mixed use.

In some areas of the proposed plan, particularly along the water’s edge, buildings as high as 12 stories would be permitted to rise, according to the Department of City Planning, which is leading the project.

Roughly 35 blocks in the 60-block study area will remain unchanged, and be left for manufacturing uses.

“This is the start of the discussion,” said Purnima Kapur, the director of the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn office. “We want to come up with a proposal that is good for the area.”

She said the agency is anxious to hear feedback, and hopes to begin a formal public review of the plan by early next year.

The plan will require a 40-foot esplanade along either side of the canal, as well as setbacks, opening the waterway up to the public, according to City Planner Jennifer Posner.

“It’s an opportunity to create a pedestrian-friendly environment,” she said.

Posner said the draft re-zoning was crafted with the framework hammered out last year by the agency and the community firmly in mind.

The framework created a series of goals intended to guide future land use changes, including waterfront access, maintaining neighborhood character and affordable housing.

Posner said developers who include affordable housing would be eligible for bonuses to their plan’s floor area ratio, a measure of building density.

The largest buildings, 12 stories (roughly 125-feet tall), according to the plan, would be allowed to rise on portions of Fourth Avenue, and in a waterfront area bounded by Third Avenue, Bond, and Carroll Street to Third Street.

On limited portions of the waterfront area, 125-feet will be permitted only after an 80-foot setback, and only on a limited portion of the builidng. On Fourth Avenue, buildings can reach 12-stories only after a setback after eight stories.

On Third Avenue and Union Street, “more density” may be supported, and buildings with a base height between four and six stories and as tall as eight stories may rise, Posner said.

Sackett Street resident Janet Zimmerman lives a block away from the canal. She said the proposal left much to be desired.

“We live in a neighborhood with four-story buildings with the occasional five-story. Twelve stories is totally inappropri­ate,” she said.

Zimmerman, a salesperson for Brownstone Real Estate, said she believes in “appropriate development.”

“We need to realize that jobs are important too. Not just the short term of building but the long-term jobs of manufacturing. I think a mix of residential and commercial is fine, but I just question the density,” she added.

Bette Stoltz, the executive director of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation, an advocate for local businesses, wondered if city planners were willing to vouch for the safety of the canal—still one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country.

“Is the city accepting responsibility for saying that it is safe to live there?” she asked.

Kapur said standards are already in place that would compel developers to clean a site before residential housing may rise.

She stressed that the re-zoning only offers broad guidelines in which developers may build—not a mandate for tall buildings.

“I don’t think we want to be too prescriptive and not get any development at all,” she said.

Local resident Lorraine Muczyn saw a silver lining in the proposal.

She said it presents a “unique opportunity” to build a senior citizens’ village where before it would not have been permitted.

With astronomical housing costs, she cautioned, “we can’t forget our most vulnerable tenants.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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