Gowanus Rezoning Restraining Order Lifted; 7-Month Approval Process to Start

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Kings County Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine ruled on Monday to lift the temporary restraining order blocking the Gowanus, Brooklyn, rezoning — a project covering 80 blocks between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. The decision means the city’s typically seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) can proceed, The Real Deal first reported.

The Gowanus rezoning — which would pave the way for 8,200 new apartments, 700,000 square feet of commercial space, and 251,000 square feet of community facilities on industrial land — was stalled after a community group sued the Department of City Planning in January. The city previously asked a judge to toss out the suit.

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The group, Voice of Gowanus, argued that the public hearings conducted over Zoom were illegal and inequitable to residents with poor internet access because they were not conducted in person, Commercial Observer reported.

As a condition of the rezoning’s ULURP moving forward, Brooklyn Community Board 6 and 2 have agreed to hold a joint hearing conducted simultaneously at a physical outdoor location and online, TRD reported. 

Voice of Gowanus also complained that the rezoning of the Brooklyn neighborhood would produce overpriced apartments near the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal, increase the waterway’s contamination and impede the cleanup. Of the 8,000 new apartments planned, 3,000 would be set aside for affordable housing, though the de Blasio administration has not committed to upgrading existing public housing complexes in the neighborhood. City Council members previously indicated that upgrades are necessary for them to approve the new zoning, TRD reported.

The lengthy ULURP process gives several city groups — including the community board, the borough president and the New York City Council — all a chance to review the application, submit recommendations and hold public hearings on the project. With the restraining order lifted, the ULURP process can move forward while the lawsuit continues — a win for supporters who saw the delay as the main threat to the rezoning. 

The City Planning Commission (CPC) voted to certify the Gowanus rezoning plans hours after the judge lifted the restraining order, officially kicking off the ULURP process.

“Bringing affordable housing, more jobs and significant amounts of new, improved, carefully crafted public open space to this waterfront and transit-rich corner of Brooklyn will be life changing — especially for lower- and middle-income New Yorkers who have been unable to afford to live in Gowanus,” CPC Chair Marisa Lago said in a statement. “Under this plan, Gowanus will continue to be as creative and eclectic as it is today. It will also be affordable, significantly greener and more vibrant.”

But Voice of Gowanus is not backing down from the legal battle. Voice of Gowanus’ lawyer, Jason Zakai, told CO that the group will continue to push for transparency at ULURP public hearings. He added that the lifting of the temporary restraining order is contingent on the city meeting certain requirements, which it has not yet met.

“Justice Levine’s order today is provisional,” Voice of Gowanus said in a statement. “Importantly, it does not reflect a ruling on the actual merits of the case. Voice of Gowanus continues to review the full range of legal options.”

With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term up at the end of this year, any further delays on top of the restraining order and ULURP process mean that the approval process could extend after de Blasio leaves office, CO reported. It’s unclear if whoever follows de Blasio, who has worked on the rezoning of Gowanus since 2013, will support the project. Any additional delays would also push the project past the tenure of two key City Council members, Stephen Levin and Brad Lander.

Update: This story has been updated to show the City Planning Commission voted to certify the Gowanus rezoning plan.