Controversial project heads to Council for final vote
Site will be leased out for private development
Site currently slated for affordable housing development
A group opposed to the River Ring development on the Williamsburg waterfront vow to continue to fight the project after Community Board 1 voted in favor of the project going forward.
But wants size reduced and affordable units increased
Residents complain about issue at Two Blue Sl
Towers have found support, criticism from residents
After many weeks of speaking for the trees, the local Loraxes and community activists at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden have successfully halted the development of two high-rise towers that would have severely impacted plant life in the park.
Proposed for 960 Franklin Avenue, the two 34-story towers would have blocked sunlight from reaching vast portions of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
Additionally, the towers would cast a shadow over many other areas throughout Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, including nearby Jackie Robinson Playground, M.S. 375, and the campus of Medgar Evers College.
This past week, opponents of the project finally declared victory in the “Fight for Sunlight.”
First, Borough President Eric Adams stated his opposition to the plan. Although the borough president only plays an advisory role in the land-use process, Adams disapproval was a strong sign of waning support.
An official statement from Adams office explained that while new development on underutilized land is welcome when it offers affordable housing or other positive benefits, the towers at 960 Franklin were without precedent.
But the towers were dealt a much bigger blow when the City Planning Commission voted against the project.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage the project, real estate developer The Continuum Company proposed a revised plan for the tower that was 17 stories tall. The City Planning Commission rejected this proposal as well.
“The proposal is not only inappropriate for this location,” said Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission, “but also casts extensive shadows over the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ greenhouses and conservatories, which are unique, sunlight sensitive receptors.”
Recent developments reveal an increasing support for the Gowanus rezoning.
Last week, Borough President and Democratic nominee for mayor Eric Adams formally announced his support for the ambitious zoning change.
Although borough presidents only have an advisory role in the land use process, Adams support for the neighborhood-wide rezone is a telling sign that the Democratic nominee would continue to advocate for similar developments if he is elected mayor.
“New York City is always changing, but every once in a while we need a sea change, and that’s what I believe we are embracing now,” Adams said during a press conference.
Adams made it clear that his support was contingent upon the rezoning’s commitment to funding public housing. Multiple NYCHA developments, including the Wyckoff Houses, are included within the area planned for rezoning, but the borough president is hopeful that the money put towards the rezoning will also assist low-income residents.
“This is about investing in public housing,” Adams explained. “Buildings cannot go up around NYCHA developments while residents see their futures go down.”
The Gowanus Rezoning has previously been criticized for opening the neighborhood to increased displacement and gentrification.
However, a new Racial Equity Report on Housing and Opportunity created by the City Council in collaboration with the Fifth Avenue Committee and Columbia University Urban History Professor Lance Freeman found that the zoning change would in fact make the neighborhood more diverse.
The report took neighborhood demographics and income into account, and determined that 20 to 25 percent of the new apartments coming to the neighborhood through the rezoning are projected to be filled by Black residents, while 25 to 37 percent are projected to be filled by Hispanic residents.
Currently, the area slated for rezoning is more than 60 percent white.
“In 2021, New York City remains one of the most highly segregated and unequal cities in the United States,” read the report. “Persistent disparities in access to economic opportunity, quality education, healthcare, housing, and open space have been revealed and exacerbated by a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities.
“Until recently, broad goals of citywide economic growth and housing production without specific regard to racial or socio-economic equity have long dominated the policymaking process,” it continued. “This model of pursuing ‘color-blind’ growth within a vision of New York as a global capital of finance, culture, and tourism continues to influence the City’s overall policy direction and has yet to be fully reckoned with.”
The Gowanus Rezoning was approved on June 24 by community boards 6 and 2 after many months of pushback and legal challenges.
The proposal was originally conceived during the administration of former mayor Michael Bloomberg, but found new life under Mayor Bill de Blasio. It will see 80 square blocks of the neighborhood rezoned to make way for new developments, including the controversial plan to build a complex on the highly polluted Public Place site along the Gowanus Canal.
The rezoning will bring approximately 8,500 new housing units to the neighborhood, including 3,000 units that would be permanently affordable.
Community groups, including the grassroots organization Voice of Gowanus, criticized both the legal process to approve the rezoning and the environmental risks that could come along with new development.
The group successfully secured a temporary restraining order that prevented the rezoning from entering the land-use review process, yet the ruling was soon reversed by New York Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine.
At the time of the rezoning’s approval, many local politicians and community members were still wary of the negative impact the rezoning would bring. Councilman Brad Lander and members of Community Board 6 both expressed their dismay that additional NYCHA funding was not included in the rezoning proposal, and called for the city to conduct a larger study of the rezoning’s potential impact on racial equity.
With the release of the new report last week, these political figures have begun to change their tune.
“As our public statements, communications to the city, and final vote to conditionally approve the Gowanus rezoning made clear, we supported a racial impact study and are glad to see one has been done,” said Mike Racioppo, district manager of Community Board 6. “More important than the study being done are the results of the study, which show Gowanus could become more diverse after the rezoning.”
In addition to the Racial Equity Report, local activists continue to demand that the city support and fund a Gowanus Zoning Commitment Task Force to maintain a steady stream of communication with members of the community.
“The task force will monitor compliance with public and private commitments, adherence to zoning requirements, and implementation of the rezoning,” board leaderhips wrote in a joint statement.