City Unveils Massive Rezoning Initiative to Spur Development in Gowanus, Brooklyn

An imagined sketch of the Gowanus Canal from the Department of City Planning

Extensive rezoning proposals from New York City’s Department of City Planning could spur a dramatic uptick in development along the shores of Gowanus, Brooklyn. Known among city agencies as the “Gowanus Neighborhood Plan,” the initiative is designed to facilitate the construction of residential and commercial properties, to encourage population increase, and to help create new job opportunities for local residents.

If approved, the zoning amendments could spur the construction of more than 7.6 million square feet of new residential area, upwards of 1.5 million square feet of commercial area, and an overall reduction of vacant, underutilized land. These developments would also include expanded community facilities, publicly accessible open space, and parking.

A map from the Department of City Planning illustrates areas that would be effected by the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan

The Gowanus Canal runs through the center of the neighborhood and once served as a busy industrial waterway. By the 1880’s, the shores of the canal were also home to a variety of heavy manufacturing plants including coal and oil, foundries, paint and ink factories, electroplating shops, and paper mills, as well as the storage and distribution of materials used to build and maintain adjacent residential neighborhoods. By the 1920’s, approximately six million tons of cargo made their way in and out of the canal.

Unfortunately, the canal was also used as a dumping ground for raw sewage and untreated industrial waste. By the mid-19th century, pollution in the canal rose to levels that were incompatible for marine life and hazardous to humans. In 2009, the canal was officially deemed a Superfund site in an effort to significantly clean and restore the canal waters.

Considering the history and reputation of the Gowanus Canal, sustainability is a primary focus for officials who support rezoning the neighborhood.

“The Gowanus draft zoning proposal is a strong next step toward the sustainable, inclusive, mixed-use neighborhood that the community has been envisioning for many years,” said New York City Council Member Brad Lander. “The draft zoning proposal and framework updates address issues of environmental remediation and sustainability, a dynamic and resilient waterfront, significant new affordable and market-rate housing, public housing improvements, preserving the ‘Gowanus mix’ of arts and manufacturing, integrated schools, historic preservation, new open space, and school and transit improvements.

City agencies are currently working with community partners and developers to help realize the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan which also calls for infrastructure improvements and community investments. The next steps include a thorough environmental and public review before implementation can begin.

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