NYCHA Residents Claim They Are Being Left Out of Gowanus Rezoning Plan

Gowanus Canal Rezoning. Photo credit City Planning Site.

A proposal to make one of Southern Brooklyn’s neighborhoods the newest trendy area in the borough, has many local residents concerned over the planned development’s impact on the community. 

Residents of Gowanus, particularly those who reside in New York City Public Housing (NYCHA), refuse to back down on their criticism of the City’s proposed plan to rezone the Gowanus community and its waterfront.

The city’s proposed plan includes mixed-use properties that will contain market rate and affordable housing, that could rise as high as 30 stories. In addition, the development of the Gowanus Canal will be the focal point of six acres of open space and parks. The zoning proposal covers an area roughly bounded by Bond Street to the west, Baltic Street to the north, 4th Avenue to the east, and Huntington, 3rd, 7th and 15th streets to the south.

The Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Warren Street Houses are public housing developments in the area that in recent years has been overrun by increased housing and business development in the area.

Charlene Nimmons

However, residents say New York City’s Department of City Planning (DCP) has not included the public housing residents and their needs in their public comment process.

Charlene Nimmons, a local activist and resident of Wyckoff Gardens, said residents are not pleased, “City Planning considers us a separate and apart entity, the [housing] projects are not included in their plan,” she said. “We are treated the worst.”

On Feb. 6, at the first meeting since the City unveiled its proposed plan, hundreds of incensed public housing residents demanded a formal presentation and answer to how the City plans to include them into the final project.

However, DCP contends that the public process of the Gowanus Rezoning has been the most inclusive carried out to date. When the City unveiled its plan on January 30th, DCP Director Maris Lago was quoted as saying, “Does it get more dynamic and eclectic than Gowanus? We’ve been listening to, learning from and working with neighborhood residents, businesses, community organizations and elected officials.”

City officials are even welcoming opposing arguments and discussion to ensure the final project meets the need of the entire community.

“Passionate debate about the future of a neighborhood is key to developing the best plan possible, including for open space, resiliency, housing and jobs. We will keep working with the community to achieve their goals for a green, affordable, mixed-use Gowanus,” said a spokesperson for DCP.

A statement on the Department of City Planning’s website addresses NYCHA residents stating in part,“Support[ing] NYCHA residents and strengthen[ing] the Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens and Warren Street Houses NYCHA communities through better integrating them with the Gowanus neighborhood through improved physical, social and economic connections to other neighborhood resources.” The exact details of supporting the public housing developments in the area are not explicitly stated.

Additionally, DCP officials claim that they met with community stakeholders and elected officials before issuing their plan, and that the plan is a direct reflection of  those meetings.

City Council Member Brad Lander

City Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington), whose district Gowanus lies in, believes that open communication about the plan is still possible.

“If we keep working together, listening to community voices, having honest conversations about hard issues, pushing ourselves to be creative and mindful of our shared values, we will be able to make one of the largest re-zonings of the de Blasio Administration also turn out to be one of the best,” said Lander. 

But Nimmons is unsure about Lander’s assertion and wants the elected officials to do a better job of representing the entire community, “We don’t want to work in silos, and the only way to do this right is to be inclusive.” 

City Councilman Stephen Levin

City Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg, Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, DUMBO, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, Greenpoint, Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, Park Slope) who also represents the neighborhood did not provide a response at post time. 

An upcoming community board meeting is set for Feb. 28. 

“They come to meetings but there are no results. What assistance have they provided? If they have, I don’t see it,” concluded Nimmons.