Elected Officials and Community Leaders Welcome City Planning's Release of Working Group Recommendations for Gowanus

Elected Officials and Community Leaders Welcome City Planning's Release of Working Group Recommendations for Gowanus

Areas of consensus include infrastructure and resiliency investments, expanded public access, a strong mix of uses including industry, arts, and affordable housing. Community members will continue to push for stronger commitments to invest in public housing & manufacturing jobs.
October 18, 2017

From January through July of 2017 -- as part of the larger NYC Department of City Planning’s Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study -- community residents took part in a series of working groups, to drill down on the complex issues that will shape the future of Gowanus. Today, the cumulative results of this effort were published on www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/gowanus/gowanus-updates.page.

The working groups covered: (1) sustainability & resiliency, (2) industry & economic development, (3) housing, (4) public realm, and (5) arts & culture. Each working group met monthly, for a total of 25 meetings. Anyone could join a working group, provided they committed to regular participation, with meeting times organized around the participants. Participants included homeowners, tenants of public and private housing, small business owners, environmental activists, artists, affordable housing advocates, and more. In addition to members of the public, staff from more than a dozen City agencies contributed to the working group process. In July, participants came together for a “Working Group Summit,” in which they compared recommendations across the groups.   

The nearly 75 recommendations illuminate substantial areas of consensus around a shared future for the the Gowanus Canal area. DCP indicated which ideas were mutually supported by members of the working group, including public participants and the City agencies represented. In a significant step forward for honest and transparent community planning, City Planning also included recommendations made by working group members that were not supported by the City, on which there was not consensus among working group members, or where additional information is needed. At the request of stakeholders and elected officials at the Working Group Summit, for those recommendations that the City did not support, City Planning has indicated the reasons why. In addition to the recommendations lists, City Planning also produced a series of maps that visualize each working group’s recommendations.

The Working Group process helped make clear where there is agreement on a path forward toward a land use and infrastructure framework for the neighborhood, where there are honest disagreements, and also where additional work is needed to meet the community’s goals.

Areas of substantial consensus include:

  • Investing in infrastructure & community capacity to improve resiliency in the face of climate change, reduce combined sewer overflows into the Gowanus Canal & promote sustainability. This initiative has already seen progress with $500 million CSO Tanks currently in public review. The tanks will have a park on top and would be sited adjacent to NYCHA housing.

  • Supporting job-creation in the industrial business zone by continuing to prohibit residential uses, restricting self-storage and hotels, and making infrastructure investments that support business operations, and connecting NYCHA and other residents to those jobs.

  • Encouraging an inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood outside the IBZ, through a mix of mixed-income housing, light industry, artists and arts organizations.

  • Promoting public access to the Gowanus Canal through an innovative waterfront access plan, improving connections across the neighborhood, protecting historic buildings, and interpreting the area’s rich history.

  • Preserving & creating affordable housing through preservation of existing affordable units, support for NYCHA residents, creation of new units through the mandatory inclusionary housing program, and a focus on deeply permanently affordable housing on City-owned sites.

In several areas where City Planning has not (yet) agreed to support community recommendations or caution that the proposals might be beyond the scope of this plan, elected officials and community residents plan to push forward aggressively, in order to meet community goals. These areas include include:

  • Leveraging future development to make overdue investments in NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens, and Warren Street Houses.

  • New tools for preventing residential displacement & harassment, including a “Certificate of No Harassment” (which HPD and the City Council continue to explore).

  • Allowing for the growth of job-generating uses in the Industrial Business Zone by evaluating land use changes that enable manufacturing to expand.

  • New mechanisms to protect arts, artisan, and light manufacturing spaces, such as zoning requirements for mission-driven/not-for-profit ownership.

In addition to these recommendations -- where the vast majority of Working Group participants agreed -- there were also several Working Group participants who called for a “managed retreat” from the Gowanus waterfront.  This recommendation was included on the list, even though it was not supported by most Working Group participants or City Planning.

We are very grateful to the staff from City Planning and other agencies, and to all the volunteers who participated in this extensive process. While there is not perfect agreement -- indeed, in some cases, even sharp disagreements -- the Working Group process was a serious, inclusive, thoughtful effort that included diverse voices and made real progress.  

“Through the Working Groups, we’ve made real progress together, with substantial consensus on critical items: to make the neighborhood a real model for sustainability and resiliency in the face of climate change, with a vibrant and accessible waterfront, and a deeply inclusive, creative, mixed-use, mixed-income community,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Of course we don’t agree on everything -- this is Brooklyn, after all -- but we were able to have honest, thoughtful, adult conversations about those differences. I give real credit to City Planning for spending the time to convene and listen to these groups, and to communicate transparently about the recommendations that they don’t support -- or at least, not yet. We will keep pushing as hard as we can for deeper investments in public housing, to better support manufacturing businesses to grow and create good jobs, and to make sure artists, artisans, and small businesses have a real place in the future of Gowanus.”          

"When the community speaks, it's our job to listen," said Council Member Stephen Levin. "Though the recommendations developed through the working groups represent a diverse community's wishes, there is broad consensus. I want to thank everyone who has participated in this process -- residents, nonprofits, businesses, and our partner city agencies. Together, we are not just laying the groundwork for a plan, we are also innovating engagement between government and the people. We've made tremendous progress, but there is still much work ahead. Gowanus, this is your community, your vision, your future."

“I congratulate the Department of City Planning, my colleagues in government and most importantly, the community who seized the opportunity to engage in participatory planning for this unique corner of Brooklyn. Gowanus has both challenges and charm aplenty, which are reflected in the working group’s recommendations. Together we can create a planning framework that is environmentally, racially and economically just; one that is both respectful of the area’s rich history and that embraces our shared future,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

"The painstaking detail that has gone into our local Bridging Gowanus meetings followed by the DCP Gowanus PLACES study is the epitome of an in depth participatory community planning process," said Sayar Lonial, Chair of BKCB-6. "While our work is not complete, we thank Council Member Lander, our local elected officials and the Department of City planning for engaging in a thoughtful exercise that will build on the best of Gowanus making it into the neighborhood our City needs and we all want and deserve."

The PLACES working groups were a productive forum to work with diverse neighbors and stakeholders to develop shared priorities for the future of Gowanus.  We look forward to continuing to work with the city and our neighbors to guide the development of a diverse and connected waterfront public realm that serves the needs of the broader community and ecosystem,” said Andrea Parker, Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. “As the process moves forward, we still need to see committed investment in stormwater management, resiliency and access throughout the neighborhood and Watershed, not just the rezoned areas.  This investment should work to right ongoing environmental injustices in NYCHA developments, to promote a thriving industrial business zone, and to eliminate combined sewage overflow into the Gowanus Canal.”

“Local residents and businesses are hopeful that as the Gowanus PLACES study moves forward that the de Blasio administration will seize the opportunity to meaningfully address the community’s desire to grow inclusively and equitably by preserving and growing three our community’s greatest assets – our public housing, our industrial businesses and our local artists – and to do so while creating truly affordable housing and the City’s first Eco-District to promotes sustainability, environmental justice and resilience in this unique, mixed use community” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC). FAC is also the convener of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNCJ), a coalition of local residents and stakeholders focused on promoting racial, environmental and economic justice as part of the public policy and land use actions impacting Gowanus, Brooklyn.  

"Participating in the Gowanus PLACES process has been a remarkable opportunity to learn about my neighbors and lend my insight on planning a sustainable, resilient community. One of the remaining challenges is to develop adaptive zoning mechanisms that ensure a diverse and affordable mix of non-residential uses, including artist spaces, retail, light manufacturing, and community centers,” said David Briggs, Executive Director of Gowanus by Design.

“As advocates for the vital Gowaunus industrial and manufacturing community, SBIDC is encouraged by the City's effort to directly engage and learn from business owners and employees. It is our hope that the Department of City Planning will continue and expand that engagement to fully understand and prioritize investments and services, as well as land use changes, that would foster growth of industrial companies and quality, accessible jobs for the local Gowanus workforce. We look forward to continuing our work with DCP, elected officials, partner organizations, and small businesses to not only inform the PLACES study, but articulate clear policy goals and a plan that leads to a ”win-win” for local businesses, residents and landowners,” said Ben Margolis, Executive Director, SBIDC.

“I was a part of the Public Realm group and was slightly surprised, but very happy, to see the the consensus both about recommending design and materials efforts to keep the "sense of historic place" in Gowanus and the emphasis on social justice in terms of considering ways to make public space accessible and welcoming to residents of NYCHA Houses as well as people moving into new and proposed new buildings,” said SJ Avery, Forth on Fourth Avenue (FOFA) Co-chair and Park Slope Civic Council Trustee. “If a rezoned, rebuilt Gowanus becomes an enclave of tall modern buildings focused on high-end amenities, we will have learned nothing from all the lost opportunities for a green, welcoming, economically diverse and architecturally cohesive 4th Avenue.”

“I appreciated the effort on the part of the DCP to identify and support the unique artistic culture of the Gowanus, a culture that would simply not be the same without the large community of artists who have lived and worked here for decades. I hope this generous effort translates into real mechanisms that enable artists to continue to affordably live and work in Gowanus. I particularly urge the city to protect longstanding arts spaces and buildings, identify new and existing public and private spaces to be utilized by the arts community, and most importantly focus on creating new and expanded resources for the NYSCHA arts community,” said Sasha Chavchavdze, local artist.

“The elements of a community are much more complicated in today’s world than in previous rezonings undertaken by past administrations. Affordability is key to keeping our city working and productive, this needs to be accomplished by keeping our workforce local and job growth attainable by allowing businesses to remain in our community and grow to market within our city, rather than look outside our city when growth becomes impossible,” said Paul Basile, President of Gowanus Alliance. “Gowanus must be looked at in a comprehensive way that includes FAR increases to the IBZ. We are thankful to Councilman Lander for his support of businesses and look forward to continuing to encourage city planners to prioritize building a working community.”

“We appreciated being part of this neighborhood planning process and having the opportunity to cultivate a culturally healthy community. We support recommendations that further equity and belonging, including increased support for historically underinvested in cultural resources that play a vital role in the neighborhood. This should include the reopening of the Gowanus Community Center and ongoing support for its programs,” said Caron Atlas, Director of Arts & Democracy and Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, NY.

“These intensive working groups are a wonderful example of what the best partnerships between community and city policy-makers can be. I appreciate that the DCP created this process to include such disparate voices. I see this as a milestone in these conversations, but by no means an end point,” said Abby Graf Subak, Director of Art Gowanus.  “I am heartened to see such community consensus around issues of keeping artists and creativity in Gowanus. However, we need to continue the search for the policy mechanisms that will make that possible. If we can continue a transparent and collaborative process, I continue to be optimistic about the future of our neighborhood.”

“Gowanus Places highlighted how intensely the community is dedicated to accessible, sustainable open space along the Canal, as well as ensuring that future development includes vibrant Canal-facing streetscapes and parkland,” said Kim Maier, Executive Director of the Old Stone House.

“I took part in the arts and culture working group and I think everybody learnt a lot through the process. The community participants demonstrated once again their passion, knowledge, and dedication to Gowanus and to keeping it creative. The city representatives were sincerely well meaning and thoughtful, and open to unconventional ideas. And Catherine Zinnel as a representative of our Council Member’s office played, as always, a significant role in translating the community’s requests into language the city representatives could understand, and not letting anything fall under the table,” said Ute Zimmermann, co-founder of Gowanus Souvenir Shop. But while the approved recommendations reflect the discussions of our working group, they alas don’t show the kind of larger vision I still wish would be possible for Gowanus. That the city did decided to keep a public record of the unapproved recommendations gives me hope that they at least in theory agree. If there ever was an opportunity to think and plan outside the box, Gowanus with its improbable mix of toxic sludge, creative soul, industrial grit, and romantic charm is the place.”

In addition to the Working Groups, City Planning has held a series of large public meetings, on topics including resiliency and sustainability, urban design, affordable housing tools for tenants and owners, community planning basics, and more. On Thursday, October 19th, City Planning will host the next public meeting, along with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and School Construction Authority (SCA), with a focus on schools, transportation and community resources.

City Planning anticipates releasing a draft planning framework in early 2018.

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