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Learning from AY: Gowanus Summit insists balanced development desirable and possible

They didn't say so explicitly, but it sure looks like the Gowanus Summit--a coalition of community organizations, affordable housing advocates, labor unions, and advocates for blue-collar jobs setting out principles for rezoning in Gowanus--learned from the Atlantic Yards experience.

They haven't let one developer's demand for density and a particular footprint drive the process. They haven't let advocates for affordable housing shout down those who raise questions about other priorities.

Rather, they're trying to have it all, and while the devil will be in the details, they think the package is workable, not just affordable housing but space for industrial jobs, respect for community context, mixed-use zoning, responsible contracting, and a comprehensive approach to neighborhood infrastructure.

Yesterday, before City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden came to the Gowanus area to present the city's rezoning proposal to the Land Use Committee of Community Board 6, members of the Gowanus Summit held a press conference at PS 32 to announce the principles and to encourage the city to be a partner.

"We don't yet see any areas of conflict," observed Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development (and a City Council candidate), noting that the city hasn't broadened its vision to include the full Gowanus Summit principles.

Working out the tensions

I didn't stay for Burden's presentation--I had another learning-from-AY event to attend, regarding Coney Island--but it was remarkable how the participants asserted that the tensions could be worked out. (Here's some skeptical coverage of Burden's presentation from PFMA)

Leading the charge were City Council Members Bill de Blasio and David Yassky, two elected officials who endorsed Atlantic Yards but have become more critical and seem to have wised up to the notion that the end may not justify the means.

"This is land use the way it ought to be," Yassky declared.

Adam Friedman, Director of the New York Industrial Retention Network, called it "an extraordinary process of bringing people together." Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee asserted that existing affordable housing could be preserved. Jo Anne Simon, a Democratic District Leader (and City Council candidate), called it "a really great trend going forward: balance and coming together."

Density plus context

"Overdevelopment is irrevocable," de Blasio warned. "Once it happens, it happens."

The Principles for Responsible Development of the Gowanus Canal, however, explain that, to achieve all the goals, the neighborhood had better get ready for changes:
We recognize that achieving all these goals will require significant development around the canal--most likely at densities and heights higher than some would prefer. While we do not support density for its own sake (and are cognizant of the challenges that development can bring), we are willing to support additional density around the Gowanus Canal, to the extent that it will enable us to meet these ambitious principles for development.


However, the section on balanced development also called for contextual rezoning to limit out-of-scale development in residential sections of Carroll Gardens, from Pacific Street on the north to the Gowanus expressway on the south, and from the BQE on the west to Smith Street/Bond Street/3rd Avenue to the east.

Some bumps in the road

And Friedman, in a press release, warned what could go wrong: "City Planning made the right decision in agreeing that a significant portion of the Gowanus Canal corridor should remain zoned for manufacturing. Unfortunately, traditional manufacturing zoning leaves big loopholes, and the area could still be overrun by big-box stores and hotels, as was recently the case in Dutch Kills in Queens."

Coalition members

The coalition included the Fifth Avenue Committee, Gowanus Canal Community Development Corp., AFL-CIO, Mason Tenders' District Council of Greater New York, 32BJ SEIU, NYC Central Labor Council, NYC District Council of Carpenters, New York Industrial Retention Network, New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, Pratt Center for Community Development, Public Housing Communities, the Carroll Gardens Association, and the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation.

(Public Housing Communities, btw, was a new group formed to sign the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement; I didn't see a rep from the group at the press conference yesterday.)

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