New York City is undergoing an incredible spate of growth, and over the last decade saw its population swell by over 600,000 to more than 8.8 million residents. The great demand for new housing is still driving costs upward, and the city is scrambling to identify sites for redevelopment. One such area is the Gowanus neighborhood in South Brooklyn, where lame-duck Mayor Bill de Blasio has advocated for a sweeping rezoning of its formerly industrial lots around the Gowanus Canal. Now, in a gesture that could see further political support for the initiative, Brooklyn Borough President and presumptive future mayor Eric Adams is backing the redevelopment under the caveat that nearby New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects receive hundreds of millions of dollars in long-overdue repair funding.
If you have never seen the Gowanus Canal, there is a decent enough chance that you may have smelt it while passing over on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the elevated tracks of the F/G subway line. The neighborhood has long served as an industrial engine for the metropolitan region, and, coupled with untreated sewage runoff, is one of the most polluted stretches of New York City. In light of those circumstances, the Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 and is currently undergoing an approximately half-a-billion dollar clean up (though a century of oil and coal spills, along with nearly every chemical under the sun, render that task impossible in entirety).
The proposed rezoning is enormous in scope and could encompass 82 blocks within the neighborhood. In total, the plan would entail the construction of 8,000 units of housing along with retail, with 3,000 of the units classified as affordable. All in all, the proposal could add approximately 20,000 new residents to the area.
Borough President Eric Adams said that he supports the proposal as long as the city can provide nearly $300 million in funding to the nearby NYCHA Gowanus Houses and Wykoff Gardens, likely earmarked from the tax revenues of new development. According to Brooklyn Paper, City Hall’s own estimates suggest that the two housing complexes require at least $132 million in capital funding. If the city is unable to guarantee that funding for their repair, Adams suggested capping development height at 145 feet and limiting overall density.
Voice of Gowanus, a coalition of community organizations and individual citizens, is the most adamant force lobbying against the proposed rezoning. They claim that the bulk of any new housing built will service the high-end luxury market, and will do little to address New York City’s long-term affordable housing demands. Additionally, the group states that the area is uniquely unsuitable for such large-scale development namely due to its FEMA Flood Zone A classification, as well as the likely exacerbation of sewage runoff into the Gowanus Canal; in fact, the proposed construction spree could impede ongoing canal cleanup.
The proposal, similar to other ongoing rezonings across the city, could also displace one of the few manufacturing centers left in Brooklyn and with it thousands of working-class jobs. Additionally, existing property tax laws such as the 421a program will limit the revenue collected by City Hall for nearly four decades.
The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposal this September, and it will likely be further deliberated and voted on by the City Council in October.