The stories people tell about Brooklyn’s polluted Gowanus Canal tend to reach mythical proportions. For decades, the notorious waterway helped scare off would-be residents and developers from descending on the eponymous industrial neighborhood. The canal, however, is not the sole reason that Gowanus has not experienced the type of residential development happening all around it. Much of the neighborhood is still zoned for light manufacturing. But that will likely soon change.
The Gowanus Canal has been designated as an EPA Superfund site, meaning that the federal government is headed to Brooklyn to clean it up. Developers will not be far behind. An as-of-right, 700-unit residential complex is already rising along the canal and a nearby Whole Foods has been hocking quinoa for over a year. With real estate prices skyrocketing, local councilman Brad Lander launched
At its most basic level, the plan aims to limit the types of hotels, big-box stores, and storage centers that have risen in Gowanus in recent years. As for what should come next, the plan comes with a laundry list of proposals that aims to please just about everyone.
Under the rezoning framework, much-needed infrastructure and public transit improvements would come first. This includes building soft edges along the canal, remediating Gowanus’ brownfield sites, implementing flood protection measures, and revamping existing parks and open spaces and then connecting them through a “Gowanus Greenscape.” A non-operational local bus line would be restored and new school seats would be created.
These improvements would largely be funded by tax revenues generated by the most controversial piece of the plan: residential towers that could rise up to 18 stories. Any new market-rate towers would come with conditions, and affordable housing is just one of them. The framework states that “[residential developers] would be required to preserve or create compatible light manufacturing space, art/artisan work space, or nonprofit organization work space.”
Bridging Gowanus aims to preserve the neighborhood’s industrial backbone by increasing allowable FAR for industrial and manufacturing sites and by possibly creating an industrial business improvement district.
Lander’s office admits that not everyone in Gowanus is on board with the rezoning; some residents, for example, said no residential development should be allowed in areas flooded after Superstorm Sandy. Still, those backing the plan say that now is the time to create a comprehensive strategy for Gowanus’ future. “This is a significant challenge but one worth rising to,” said the plan’s organizers in a statement. “Gowanus might just be able to demonstrate a model for a vibrant, sustainable, inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood; in a low-lying, once-polluted industrial area; on a warming planet.”