Factory reset: Gowanus rezoning will kill blue-collar business, say industrialists

Changes on the waterfront: The city rezoned canal-side land to make way for the Lightstone complex.
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Is this the end of gritty Gowanus?

The city is considering rezoning the entire neighborhood for more residential development, and if it goes ahead, local business boosters predict the changes will be the death of the area’s blue-collar businesses, as they can’t afford to compete with luxury housing tycoons.

“There is huge money to be made by developers who want to come in to an area zoned for manufacturing, gobble up whatever they can, and lobbying for rezoning so they have a property that has quadrupled in value,” said Paul Basile, who is president of business group the Gowanus Alliance and owns several commercial properties throughout Gowanus. “As a commercial manufacturing property owner, I can tell you that the return on investment for a manufacturing property is not that great, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.”

The Department of City Planning announced on Monday that it is launching one of its “Places” studies this fall to look at rezoning the neighborhood as part of Mayor DeBlasio’s effort to create more so-called “affordable” housing around the city.

It was the same study the city deployed before okaying a large-scale rezoning of East New York, despite strong opposition from local residents and pols.

Currently, land in Gowanus is largely zoned for light industrial use and is home to many manufacturing businesses and artists.

But that — and the big stinky waterway running through the center of the ’hood — hasn’t prevented area property prices from soaring in recent years and enticing new residential development, such as the 700-unit Lightstone complex next to the canal.

The Lightstone building, which partially opened earlier this year, required a rezoning that many neighbors fought — arguing it would over-tax local schools, subways, and sewers — though it eventually won the support of the local community board and then-Councilman Bill DeBlasio, thanks in part to the inclusion of below-market-rate housing.

Community leaders say Lightstone is proof that development is going to occur in Gowanus even without a large-scale rezoning, and at least this way the city and community can plan for infrastructure such as parks and schools that the area will need to accommodate newcomers.

“Even if we don’t get rezoning, if we see real-estate prices rising, we’re going to see development without any concentrated infrastructure improvements in the area,” said Andrea Parker, executive director of environmental group Gowanus Canal Conservancy.

But Basile says he is worried the city will seize land from local businesses via eminent domain in order to clear space for those amenities.

“We are looking at a dark tunnel, because any residential development is going to need a bit of support,” he said. “We’re talking about schools, parks, open spaces — and where are they going to find that? Is it going to be eminent domain at every turn? There are a lot of things that concern us.”

Zoning changes are far from an inevitability, says Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus), who led his own series of community town halls on rezoning the neighborhood in 2014, and ultimately released a list of recommendations called Bridging Gowanus.

The city previously did one of these studies in Queens that resulted in no significant zoning changes, he pointed out, which citizens should take as a sign that officials really do care what they have to say.

“The [study] in West Flushing, there was not a sort of meeting of the minds between community residents and elected officials, and the city, so they put the pencils down,” said Lander. “I think that’s good evidence that this is a real opportunity to engage and no outcomes have been predetermi­ned.”

Lander is organizing a series of community meetings where people can learn about the Bridging Gowanus recommendations ahead of the study, starting Aug. 9 at the Bell House.

Bridging Gowanus meeting at the Bell House (149 Seventh St. at Second Avenue in Gowanus,, Aug. 9 at 5–8 pm. Must be 21 or over.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
Why, exactly, should we all suffer a housing shortage so that a business owner can make a return on investment that is "not that great"?
Aug. 4, 2016, 7:45 am
John from Carroll Gardens says:
Maybe because there are a lot of people who work for those businesses whose livelihood depends on them. And because mixed use neighborhoods are more vital and respect our history. Look around. Where's the shortage?
Aug. 4, 2016, 10:08 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
LOL@John. I was going to try mustering a response until the last two sentences. I see that he wrote a joke comment.

But can anyone seriously answer my question?
Aug. 4, 2016, 10:20 am
Mitzie from Park Slope says:
Why don't they only allow crappy buildings to be built, so that only poor people will want to live in them?
It's already an affront to the history of the neighborhood that the houses have electricity - the original homes here did not have that. And almost none of the stores are the same stores that were there in 1916! Not even the same as 1966 or 1976!
Aug. 4, 2016, 11:01 am
Paul from Boerum Hill says:
John, are you serious with that statement? You forgot to put the /S
Aug. 4, 2016, 11:25 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Yep, the legacy of DeBloomberCuomzio, just pack em in pack em in pack em in, with no expansion of local schools, public safety, or new subway service, just pack em in pack em in pack em in so they pay more taxes you can skim.
Aug. 4, 2016, 7:04 pm
National Geographic says:
A recent study says we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet (0.8 and 2 meters) by 2100, enough to swamp many of the cities along the U.S. East Coast. More dire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, push sea level rise to 23 feet (7 meters), enough to submerge London.
Aug. 4, 2016, 8:31 pm
Barry says:
Mike, if there is such a shortage of housing on the banks of the Gowanus, why is it the Lightstone which opened up half of the planned 700 apartments for rent this spring and have only rented about 40 apartments so far?

A residential rezoning begs the question, should we trade empty apartment buildings for active manufacturing areas?
Aug. 4, 2016, 9:07 pm
Gowanee from Gowanus says:
Dense residential development in a flood zone in a hurricane evacuation route would be insane and bordering on the criminal.
Aug. 4, 2016, 10:15 pm
Jay from Gowanus says:
What shortage are we talking about? There's a giant surplus already and buildings are still being constructed. There may be a low income housing shortage, but every other rezoning has failed at any substantial increase. It's not going to work with developers in charge. If the entire city is luxury condos where will people work?
Aug. 5, 2016, 2:42 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Barry, there might not be a shortage of housing in a given building or on a given street, but the city has a housing shortage. We aren't building enough to handle our population growth and we see the effects in skyrocketing rents.

It's lovely hearing from the I've-got-mine crowd who isn't affected by rising rents or being able to move close to jobs.
Aug. 5, 2016, 5:59 am
Paul from Boerum Hill says:
@ Jay from Gowanus?

What are you smoking? You are out of your mind if you think there is a housing surplus anywhere around here. As the article states the companies here are barely hanging on anyway so they neither seem like a good source of jobs or long term viable business.
Aug. 5, 2016, 9:05 am
water body-evaporation-cloud-rain says:
What probably matters most is cleaning up the toxins, before water levels rise and mix with them.
Aug. 5, 2016, 9:18 am
water body-evaporation-cloud-rain says:
mmm… do those toxins mix with the ground water?
Aug. 5, 2016, 9:20 am
Becher from Brooklyn Heights says:
Don't count on LEED accreditation to result in toxic free construction. They get points for insulating with styrofoam.
Aug. 5, 2016, 9:59 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
There is only one way to ensure manufacturing is preserved in Gowanus. Allow for residential use with a deed restriction to mandate 80% of ground floor use to manufacturing / non-parking.

Lightstone residential is far superior than the stupid Whole Foods and Lowe's parking lots on our shoreline!
Aug. 5, 2016, 9:06 pm
Trollerskates from Moving Target says:
Why would anyone want to live on top of a toxic waste dump? The feds should declare that entire area a brownfield, and declare it a no go zone for about thirty years.
Aug. 6, 2016, 2:06 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
A change in the zoning is just to transfer the wealth from the small businesses to developers. AGAIN, the city puts developers ahead of small business and the people who actually live in neighborhoods. Shame on us all, a weak confused electorate that are just tools of the rich and powerful. And shame on the mayor for allowing pay to play.
Aug. 6, 2016, 3:30 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
Industrial jobs are dead in NYC. They're all migrating towards lower cost, non union jurisdictions. This is a perverse dream heavily subsidized by bureaucrats. The city needs housing more than preservation of scrap yards that employ a handful of low wage people.
Aug. 6, 2016, 8:52 pm
Reginato from Windsor Terrace says:
IF developers build intelligently, they deserve to profit.
Aug. 7, 2016, 10:36 am
Eric W. from Vinegar Hill says:
Most don't build well, yet profit.
Aug. 7, 2016, 12:41 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
Most of you anti development boneheads are probably invested in real estate developers through your mutual funds and 401ks and highly appreciate your statements showing a positive return on your investments.
Aug. 7, 2016, 8:01 pm
Man from Brooklyn says:
Mike from Williamsburg needs to stop crying about his rent being too high. If you want to control your costs, you're welcome to buy the apartment. Maybe then you would see your real estate tax increases and understand why a landlord is raising rents.
Aug. 8, 2016, 8:02 am
Jack from Greenpoint says:
The concept of getting paid more for doing the same job is convoluted.
Aug. 8, 2016, 8:08 am
Jack from Greenpoint says:
'same' being the operative word
Aug. 8, 2016, 8:22 am

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