By James Hagedorn
Gowanus residents and activists held a press conference last week in the communityʼs latest effort to steer a planned rezoning of their neighborhood.
Weeks after the city announced it was in talks with developers to build high-rise housing instead of a park on a former gas plant at the corner of Smith and Fifth Streets, Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GCNJ) said the city needs to get its own houses in order first, demanding repairs be made to crumbling NYCHA housing stock.
“This is about making sure that there is equity in economic development in our city,” said city council member Stephen Levin, noting that NYCHA is the largest provider of affordable housing in the Gowanus neighborhood, much of which is deteriorating rapidly.
“The residents … have had basic needs neglected for too long and this rezoning must have substantial benefit to the developments. Their capital needs must be met.”
Residents at the event described a “public safety crisis” with units having no heat or extreme heat, leaking pipes and rodent infestations.
“Before you rezone, repair our homes!” chanted NYCHA residents and members of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GCNJ) in a call to city administrators and the Mayor Bill de Blasio during the press conference held at DeGraw Street.
The proposed rezoning clusters light industrial, artist, commercial and community space around 4th and Hoyt Streets, between 3rd and 4th Avenue and provides increased density for job-creating ventures.
The new rules would favor loft-style buildings in line with today’s business trends and in context with the low-rise neighborhood’s character and they would scrap outdated parking and loading requirements as part of the pro-business zoning changes.
The proposed re-zoning would also pave the way for a housing development dubbed Gowanus Green on the largest tract of city-owned land at Smith and Fifth streets. Hudson Companies, Jonathan Rose Companies, Bluestone Organization and the Fifth Avenue Committee have proposed building 950 apartments, a public school, retail, and community space on the 5.8 acre site.
It would be one of the biggest developments of a rezoning that would ultimately create more than 8,000 apartments and an estimated 3,000 new jobs.
However, before any work gets done, GCNJ has three main demands for a rezoning that they believe would benefit the entire community and specifically those who already call Gowanus home.
The demands include upfront capital funding for NYCHA at Warren, Wyckoff, and Gowanus Houses; Net-zero combined sewage overflow, and protections for what is already a compromised canal; and the creation of an environmental justice special district with powerful and clear local oversight.
GCNJ was formed in 2016, at the very beginning of the New York City’s move to rezone neighborhoods, as a coalition that seeks justice for local residents by elevating voices of the community that have not been heard in the city’s planning process.
Council member Brad Lander told last week’s gathering, “The right way to think about the future of our communities is for people in our communities to come together, do the hard work of thinking across all the issues they care about, and say what is most important. When that is done for real, then we have an opportunity to imagine a future that is reflective of a shared set of values and makes the rules so that we get it.”
The GCNJ press conference comes a month after a plan to rezone Inwood was vetoed by a city judge who cited the De Blasio administration’s failure to “take a hard look” at the environmental impact, both ecological and social, of switching the land-usage in the neighborhood.