In 2016, the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) initiated a Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study to determine strategies for the future development of the land around the Gowanus Canal. This study is building on community priorities identified in the Bridging Gowanus process, including supporting a mix of uses, affordable housing, investment in the public realm, sustainability, resiliency, arts, and culture.

In June 2018, DCP released the Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood, which includes recommendations for open space, infrastructure, transportation, and increased density that prioritizes a mix of uses.

In January 2019, DCP released the Draft Zoning Proposal. The release included a Waterfront Access Plan, which will promote resilient and publicly accessible esplanades that support programming, soft edges, and water access.

In March 2019, DCP released the Draft Scope of Work, which lays out proposed methodologies and assumptions for the rezoning’s environmental analysis. This is a critical point of the process to ensure that the City accurately measures environmental impacts of rezoning and plans for needed infrastructure.  Our testimony at the scoping hearing is below.

We are working closely with partners across the community to advocate for a equitable and sustainable rezoning.  Read more about our advocacy below, download the Eco-District demands, and sign and support the petition for the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice.

Our Position on the Gowanus Rezoning

July 15, 2020

We are living through an unprecedented crisis that has brought to light the systemic inequalities in our city and country while calling attention to the urgent need for robust social and physical infrastructure. This need is as pressing as ever in Gowanus, where decades of contamination, neglect of basic infrastructure, and gentrification have disproportionately affected low-income BIPOC community members, especially those who live in public housing. As the neighborhood changes, it is essential that we work together as a community to adapt to a changing climate, invest in essential infrastructure, and support a resilient and equitable Gowanus. We believe that, if done right, a district-wide Gowanus rezoning offers an opportunity to make progress towards a more just and green neighborhood.

After more than a decade of real estate speculation and property acquisitions throughout the Gowanus neighborhood, new development is likely to occur with or without a district-wide rezoning. If we move forward without a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and rezoning, individual owners will apply for land use changes through private applications, limiting opportunity for community input and benefits. We believe that the City should restart the rezoning process, address the community’s priorities, and hold developers accountable in planning for a future Gowanus.

The City still has significant work to do to incorporate community needs into its proposal. And we need to continue to fight, as a neighborhood united, through the land use process to address the needs and priorities across the neighborhood, including advocates for the environment, public and affordable housing, industry, and the arts. We stand with our partners in the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ), to fight for a Gowanus that is thriving, inclusive, and resilient for all – read more in our joint op-ed published today.

The following priorities are specific to our expertise and vision for a Gowanus Canal and surrounding urban environment that is clean, resilient, diverse and alive:

We need Net Zero CSO in the Gowanus Canal

Ongoing combined sewer overflow (CSO) pollutes the Canal with raw sewage and stormwater runoff nearly every time it rains. To ensure that new development does not further contribute to pollution, we are calling for a Net Zero CSO rezoning. The City is currently working on the Unified Stormwater Rule to improve citywide stormwater controls on new development sites. These regulations could result in Net Zero CSO in Gowanus, but we need a comprehensive hydrology study to ensure that this strategy will achieve the goal. The City’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by the rezoning, will study the impacts of development on the existing system and ensure sufficient requirements and infrastructure upgrades are in place to manage stormwater and reduce CSO.

We need a Waterfront Access Plan

The Gowanus Canal’s shoreline is changing dramatically under the Superfund clean-up. While a clean up of industrial waste will result in a cleaner Canal, new bulkheads, dredging and capping the bottom will also eliminate most of the current intertidal zone, which currently supports habitat for mussels, crabs, fish, and shorebirds. At the same time, rising sea levels and flooding threaten waterfront use and public access to the shoreline. It is critical that a Waterfront Access Plan (WAP), is put in place to guide waterfront design that allows critical habitat to be rebuilt, ensures equitable access, and provides permeability to manage stormwater and buffer storms. If done right, a WAP in tandem with the Gowanus Lowlands Master Plan will provide a path forward for a resilient, biodiverse, publicly-accessible shoreline with bilevel esplanades, soft edges, stormwater management, and sustainable programming and maintenance.

We need a Parks Improvement District

With major cuts in the city budget, including a 14% decrease for the Department of Parks & Recreation, funding and coordination is needed to ensure that our public realm is maintained, programmed, and accessible to the community. Maintenance for much of the existing and future public realm in Gowanus is underfunded, including streetscapes, parks, and proposed City-owned public spaces at Gowanus Green and on top of DEP CSO tanks. While waterfront landowners will be required to build and maintain public waterfront esplanades, coordinated maintenance and programming are needed to ensure that publicly owned spaces are resilient and meet the needs of diverse users. A Parks Improvement District (PID) should be established in concert with the Gowanus rezoning to coordinate maintenance across property lines.  A PID would leverage a tax assessment on new development to fund public space and streetscape maintenance, programming, sanitation services, capital improvements, technical assistance, and workforce development. Without a funding and coordination mechanism in place we will see deterioration of our public realm in the years to come.

We need capital investment

A fair and successful rezoning will require capital investment in essential infrastructure and community assets. This should include investment in public realm improvements as outlined in the Gowanus Lowlands Master Plan, including parks, streets, streets ends, NYCHA campuses, and other City-owned properties. In a district-wide rezoning this infrastructure investment would typically be funded through the City’s Neighborhood Development Fund (NDF). In a time of strained finances, the City will need to be creative in ensuring essential improvements do not fall by the wayside and that commitments are tracked publicly through the NYC Rezoning Commitments Tracker.

SUMMARY OF POSITION on Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning and Related Actions Draft Scope of Work

May 23, 2019

Gowanus Canal Conservancy is the community-based environmental steward for the neighborhood and is leading the Gowanus Lowlands community-based planning process for the public realm. which builds upon existing remediation and planning processes to identify actionable steps towards a vibrant and resilient network of parks and public spaces centered on the Gowanus Canal. We are also a proud member of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ), a diverse coalition of residents and community organizations that advocates for a just, inclusive, and resilient Gowanus neighborhood and planning process.

Through years of planning, we have seen that achieving the community’s priorities will require thoughtfully planned density.  However, we are concerned that the proposed density has not been planned in concert with critical infrastructure and neighborhood investment.  Our comments focus on green and blue infrastructure, but we stand with our partners in demanding that the City provide a clearer road map to reaching all Neighborhood Plan Goals before the ULURP clock begins.

Impacts must be studied at appropriate scales with appropriate boundaries.

  • The EIS must study water and sewage management at the watershed and CSO-shed scales to accurately measure the impacts and needed mitigation
  • It must study the unique socio-economic and health impacts within public housing developments.
  • It must study multi-modal transportation issues in conjunction with IBZ planning.
  • And it must study all infrastructure needs within the context of recent land use changes and development in Downtown Brooklyn, Atlantic Yards, and 4th Avenue as we share critical infrastructure.

As Gowanus has unique and complex environmental issues, the City should expand the Gowanus Special Mixed-Use District to address sustainability and resiliency goals.
Given the unique geological and hydrological conditions of Gowanus, combined with a concentration of environmental burdens and vulnerable populations, the City should establish an Environmental Special District that requires a district-scale approach to sustainability and environmental justice. In New York City, there are already important precedents that modify development requirements to protect and expand natural features, such as the Special Natural Areas Districts in Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens. The following requirements should be incorporated into the Gowanus Special District:

Sewage and Stormwater Management – Existing plans for managing combined sewage overflow that are already required under the Superfund Cleanup will still leave us with an estimated 115 million gallons of overflow a year not accounting for additional sewage due to land use changes.  The City recently presented an alternative plan to build a tunnel instead of the tanks, but both options leave 8 CSO-sheds unmanaged. This already required infrastructure cannot be used as mitigation for additional sewage loading. Mitigation should be integrated into the Environmental Special District in the form of building and landscape requirements, and technical assistance and grant funding be made easily accessible to support implementation.   

Groundwater Management – The neighborhood’s high groundwater table and numerous underground creeks should be modeled to understand impacts of construction and sea level rise.

The Waterfront – The Waterfront Access Plan is an important step towards promoting resilient and publicly accessible esplanades that support programming, soft edges, water access.  For privately-owned public spaces along the waterfront, a mechanism should be created for community oversight of maintenance and programming, in order to ensure public access and enjoyment of use.

A key strategy identified in the Draft Scope to manage flood risk includes a requirement to raise the shoreline to account for future sea level rise. It is essential that new flood-resilience measures allow for positive drainage to the canal to prevent increased flooding for existing low-lying streets and buildings.

Park and Public Spaces – The rezoning must result in investment in public realm improvements as outlined in the Gowanus Lowlands Master Plan, including parks, streets, streets ends, NYCHA campuses, MTA easements + other city owned parcels.

Streetscapes and Transportation – The current Gowanus Special District includes important provisions for active streets but leaves out essential public realm elements for creating a pedestrian-friendly environment. The Special District should be expanded to require green infrastructure and seating and amend tree planting requirements to be site-specific, and existing street safety issues must be addressed.

In order to achieve the stated goals of sustainability and mobility, the City must reinstate the B71 bus and put teeth behind the Transit Easement Zones by allocating funding to make all MTA stations universally accessible and flood-resilient.

Health and Social Resilience – The City must provide critical improvements to indoor living conditions, social resilience, and health outcomes of vulnerable populations, particularly public housing residents.

Community Oversight – The City must create and empower a governing body of community representatives to ensure that Neighborhood Plan goals are met including: construction impact mitigation; developer commitments including brownfield remediation, Gowanus Mix implementation, CSO mitigation; City commitments, and to provide oversight of maintenance and programming of the public realm.

Read as a PDF

Read More

GCC Comments on Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning and Related Actions Draft Scope of Work CEQR No.19DCP157K

GCC SUMMARY OF POSITION on Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning and Related Actions Draft Scope of Work

GCC Testimony on Draft Scope of Work

GCC Response to Draft Zoning Proposal

Learn more

What’s Going On in Gowanus?
Created by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), Fifth Avenue Committee, and Pratt Center for Community Development.

Gowanus Places Study

Bridging Gowanus

Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice

Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood

Draft Zoning Proposal

Gowanus Canal Brownfield Opportunity Area Nomination Study