Opponents of Gowanus zoning file injunction as developers start driving piles

The land along the canal and behind the parked buses is the desolate site of the ‘public square’, where the development of Gowanus Green is planned. According to Voice of Gowanus, pile driving activities have already taken place here. Eagle archive photo by Lore Croghan

Voice of Gowanus, a community group fighting against the city’s rezoning plan for the Gowanus neighborhood, has filed an injunction to stop developers from creating ‘facts on the ground’ as the June 15 deadline for the 421-a tax credit is fast approaching.

The 421-a tax exemption is a property tax exemption given to real estate developers who construct new multi-family buildings in New York City. The exemption lasts approximately 15-25 years, and in return all new housing developments must include between 25-30% affordable units.

The state legislature allowed the program to expire on June 15, leaving its future in limbo. Developers say the program is key to developing affordable housing, but critics – including Gowanus’ voice – call it a “developer’s giveaway”.

The Voice of Gowanus says some developers have been driving piles and pouring foundations “without proper safety precautions and oversight” to meet the June 15 deadline.

On June 7, the group, represented by Richard J. Lippes, Esq., petitioned the Kings County Supreme Court for a preliminary injunction “to maintain the status quo .. and to avoid further construction in the rezoned area of the community of Gowanus”.

The organization also launched a petition and wrote an open letter to elected officials, including Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and Council members Shahana Hanif and Lincoln Restler, calling for a stop order to be put in place. works. VOG, in its letter, identified the site of the threshing as the Public Place site at the corner of Smith and 5e streets. The site, also known as Gowanus Green, was until the 1960s the site of a manufactured gas plant.

According to VOG, “officials from the (Federal) Environmental Protection Agency have repeatedly questioned the city’s plan to build housing and a school there, given the risk of toxic fumes from of a contamination deeply rooted in the ground”.

The rezoning plan would add more than 8,000 new apartments, 3,000 designated as affordable for low- and middle-income residents, to an 82-block area. It was passed in 2021 with overwhelming support from then-Council Member and current Comptroller Brad Lander and then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. Several other local officials and community groups such as the Fifth Avenue Committee were also on board.

Part of the rezoning plan included a complete interior renovation of NYCHA’s Gowanus and Wyckoff houses as well as improvements to the Old Stone House and the Pacific Library. The NYCHA improvements, in particular, are credited with bringing some previously undecided officials to support the plan.

Voice of Gowanus was unimpressed with the city’s approval. Around the same time, the group retained attorney Lippes, who handled environmental cases in 20 states, including representing plaintiffs in the famous Love Canal case.

A bridge over the Gowanus Canal, showing what it would look like after rezoning. Photo courtesy of the Department of Town Planning

The fight over the rezoning plan has been going on for several years. In September 2021, for example, U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez and Assemblyman Simon called on the city to redo the environmental impact study for rezoning following hurricane Ida. They claimed the study did not sufficiently consider the impact of climate change in Gowanus or the combined sewage flow in the canal, according to a Brooklyn Eagle article at the time.

“Gowanus is not just any old neighborhood. It has a unique and complex set of dangerous issues of toxic pollution, flooding and sewage overflow that have plagued our most vulnerable populations for decades,” said Katia Kelly of Voice of Gowanus, as quoted by the Eagle Last year.

“We tried to warn city officials that they were deeply wrong, as did the EPA and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, but the city refused to listen. Instead, they sold out to developers, unfairly putting thousands of people at risk.