GOWANUS, Brooklyn — A decade from now, the next trendy, once highly industrial neighborhood New Yorkers might be hearing about could be Gowanus.
The effort to re-zone and re-imagine of the 82 blocks around the polluted canal has taken and giant step forward. But there are still fights about what comes next with debates on everything from affordable housing, to gentrification, to climate change.
The development already happening in Gowanus has come a long way from its old reputation as the city’s rusted trash depot surrounding the polluted canal. The federal government has finally begun to clean the canal and city planners want to kick that transformation of the neighborhood into overdrive.
They envision picturesque bridges across the canal connecting waterfront green-spaces, all of which would be in the shadow of mixed-use high-rises with more than 8,000 new housing units, 3,000 of which are affordable.
A coalition of neighborhood groups sued to halt the rezoning from moving forward during the pandemic, alleging virtual hearings were not transparent. They say the plan was led by developers and would mean rapid gentrification without the city providing basic infrastructure, especially the sewer system.
Flooding and sewer runoff into the canal and into basements is still a big concern here every time it rains.
A judge recently said re-zoning hearings could move forward as long as the city offered some in person outside hearings.
City planners say the project itself addresses gentrification concerns and storm waters concerns at the same time, with the sewer capacity of new big buildings vastly improved.
In a separate fight over the future of Gowanus most city leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have come out against the redesigning a power station at the mouth of the canal into a plant that uses fracked gas.
“Those plants should go nowhere,” de Blasio said. “Let’s start really devoting ourselves to renewables.”
That state, which controls that power project, said the gas-powered station will be needed because of the impending shut down of the Indian Point nuclear plant.
For those who do not want to see the re-zoning or the redesigned power plan move forward, the main goal may be delay.
All these issues are highly politicized and the next mayor and city council, and perhaps changes coming in Albany, could easily put a stop to any of this.