A consensus on a “Points of Agreement” (POA) that will see the city invest $200 million in NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens developments has cleared the way for the City Council to pass the contentious Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning, a plan that has been in the works for over a decade.
The POA was approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee last week. The full council is expected to approve the project later this month.
In addition to money for the Housing Authority, the POA includes a promised $14.7 million for renovations to the Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and $10.95 million of the Old Stone House.
Under the terms of the POA, millions more will be invested in stormwater infrastructure, parks and schools within the 82 blocks and 200-plus acres included in the plan.
The POA was negotiated by councilmen Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Community Board 6 and the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, which includes 11 local community groups, with the de Blasio administration.
“This community has created one of the best models for inclusive growth anywhere, with strong attention to equity and affordability, and mindful of the environmental history and future of this area,” said Lander. “Debates about development are not easy, but I am truly proud of the way we’ve engaged them here.”
The rezoning is expected to create 8,000 new units of housing, 3,000 of which will be affordable. It is the largest rezoning under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will leave office at the end of the year.
The rezoning was first proposed when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in office, but was put on hold when the Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site in 2010.
It’s that designation that was a major sticking point for opponents of the plan. As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to dredge and clean the canal, members of groups like Voice of Gowanus say the construction the rezoning is sure to spur could unearth even more harmful toxins.
They point specifically to the Gowanus Green development, which will include 950 units of housing and a public school on the site of a former gas plant. The rezoning text requires that the site be extensively remediated under the supervision of the EPA, as well as the department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Conservation.
They also say the influx of residents will overwhelm the infrastructure. During heavy rainfall, sewers in the neighborhood already become overwhelmed and discharge human waste into the canal, a situation known as combined sewer overflow (CSO).
“After more than a century of neglect and toxic industrial dumping in Gowanus, this development proposal will almost certainly further degrade area air and water quality while increasing sewer back-ups as factors like sea-level rise and unchecked development stress the city’s aging and failing sewer infrastructure,” three members of Voice of Gowanus wrote in a recent op-ed.
Opponents have also been critical of the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), saying many aspects, most notably its conclusion that the project would not result in an increase in CSO, are based on false premises.
In its public comments on the EIS, the EPA remarked that the agency could not conclude the rezoning would have no increased impact on CSO.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez argues that in addition to the influx of residents, more severe rain events predicted for the future make it impossible for the city to guarantee no increase in CSO.
“[The EIS] does not properly take into consideration the impacts of climate change on the Gowanus community and on the ongoing cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, which is an EPA Superfund site,” the congresswoman said. “This is an issue of environmental justice, a sustainable future, and as Ida has proved, it could not be more important.”
Still, Levin touted the agreement that paved the way for the rezoning to go forward.
“The Gowanus Rezoning will be a milestone in land use actions in New York City,” he said. “Discussions about the Gowanus neighborhood have been ongoing for decades, and today we reach a turning point where those discussions have resulted in action.”