Loud, but not clear: Gowanus rezoning meeting erupts into shouting match over lack of presentation

Outraged: Gowanus public housing resident Monica Underwood wants to know when the city will focus on repairing and protecting her home.
Brooklyn Paper
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A long-awaited public meeting about the city’s proposal to rezone a massive chunk of Gowanus devolved into a shouting match, after its hundreds of attendees arrived to find that officials would not present their plan, but instead expected locals to passively learn the future of their neighborhood by staring at posters on the walls.

The lack of a city-led presentation about the scheme — which Gowanusaurs and pols spent the better part of two years crafting — was a slap in the face to locals hoping to hear more from officials after they hosted a similar session following the release of the plan last year.

“We want a real meeting today, we don’t want to just put signs on a poster, we want questions and answers,” said Karen Blondel, a member of community group the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, who lives in a nearby Red Hook public-housing complex. “We’re demanding that the open house format tonight be turned into a real public meeting.”

City planners on Jan. 30 dropped more details about their scheme to rezone swathes of the historically industrial neighborhood in order to pack more residents into bigger buildings there, roughly seven months after revealing a first draft of the plan that Mayor DeBlasio initially floated back in 2016.

And locals on Wednesday expected those officials to lead a presentation about the dramatic changes they’re proposing — which include allowing buildings as high as 30 stories along parts of the fetid Gowanus Canal, and structures as tall as 17 stories along a stretch of Fourth Avenue.

But instead, leaders of the Department of City Planning and other agencies stood behind booths around the packed PS 32 auditorium, forcing folks to stand in line in order to seek out the information they thought would be provided to them, another attendee said.

“I would like to know why this is the format today. The least we could have is a presentation of the draft that we participated in, and I don’t see a lot of things that we requested in this draft,” said Gowanusaur Helena Whitaker.

The frustrations with the format quickly escalated, with Blondel and other members of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice bursting out into chants of “Gowanus rezoning is incomplete, City Hall take a seat,” and “Before you rezone, fix our homes,” while other attendees meandered around the room nibbling on cheese and crackers.

The group then demanded the city planners answer their questions, including why the rezoning proposal excludes the neighborhood’s crumbling public-housing complexes, whose residents make up a quarter of the community, and why it does not do more to create a so-called eco-district to promote environmentally friendly living in the neighborhood known for its notoriously toxic canal.

“After two years of community engagement in this process, the city of New York continues to exclude any commitment to fix the environmentally unsafe conditions in local public housing, and provide equity and environmental justice to the long-standing residents of Gowanus that currently comprise more than 25 percent of the residents in the neighborho­od,” Blondel said.

Two city-planning officials eventually conceded to the locals’ loud demands, addressing the crowd and assuring that Gowanusaurs are part of the overall plan for their neighborhood.

The agency employees said residents will get more opportunities to discuss the scheme at two upcoming meetings, a yet-to-be-scheduled session with the Coalition for Justice, and a presentation of the proposal to Community Board 6’s Land Use Committee on Feb. 28.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 7:26 pm, February 13, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Honey says:
What's they're problem? Can't they read? Are they illiterate ? Don't be angry if your too dumb - that's on you!
Feb. 8, 2019, 6:38 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Show Karen the money! No rezoning should proceed without an iron-clad Community Benefits Agreement. Time's Up
Feb. 8, 2019, 9:50 am
Benny from Park Slope says:
Honey, it seems you're the f%&*ing illiterate here. The entire point of the community's justified anger was that the city "officials" -- translation: lazy, corporate-apologist bureaucrats -- couldn't be bothered to actually engage the attendees with a Q&A or justify their positions in a meaningful way, but instead presented their plan as a virtual fait accompli. Go ahead. try reading the story again. We'll wait ... while your lips move.
Feb. 8, 2019, 10:51 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Community engagement is a farce and the city would be better off if the city government would just proceed without trying. They go to the community to solicit input and advice in a format that lets a lot more people interact than if you listen to a presentation and have a few speakers (which the city government also does) and the "community" is outraged. Just cancel the laws restricting building and let people build whatever they want.
Feb. 8, 2019, 10:53 am
Helen from Ft Greene says:
It's nice to hear the City Planning Department getting trashed at one of their disingenuous "community outreach" events. De Blasio has made a mockery of every branch of government, none more devious than City Planning. What a joke that City Planning left NYCHA out of the rezoning they wouldn't show to the Gowanus community. So cynical. Mike from Williamsburg is right, that even if there's a meeting that looks more inclusive of NYCHA, it won't be. It will just be a different forum for City Planning to lie to the people.
Feb. 8, 2019, 11:48 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
NYCHA isn't being rezoned. The residents are the least risk of being displaced through a rezoning. I don't think the so-called "community" needs to be included at all, but NYCHA residents are especially irrelevant to include.
Feb. 8, 2019, 12:29 pm
Me from Gowanus says:
I agree that the laws restricting building should be rescinded as long as landmarked districts are also rescinded. Let’s level the playing field.
Feb. 8, 2019, 1:19 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Me/Gowanus has the right idea! It's perverse that Boerum Hill and Park Slope can foist all change on Gowanus, making a race to who can have the shortest neighborhoods with the fewest people and the highest rents. Prospect Heights wants in on the exclusionary action now. Landmark districts are clearly being abused. I hope Me/Gowanus will go to hearings to make sure this idea gets to the government.
Feb. 8, 2019, 3:31 pm
Me from Gowanus says:
I have brought up rescinding landmark status several times and will include it in any testimony I submit in response to the ULURP.
Feb. 8, 2019, 5:45 pm
Janie Ruskin from Local says:
They also totally ignored our requests for a heated swimming pool and hackey sack courts! This is just an insult!
Feb. 8, 2019, 6:27 pm
Mathematician from Brooklyn says:
I heard Texas has no zoning and anyone can build anything anywhere. Maybe Mike from Williamsburg should relocate there instead of trying to high-rise the entire borough.
Feb. 8, 2019, 7:06 pm
Not Goish from Prospect Heights says:
Where's Bullhorn Brad Lander, champion of the federal prison rat?
Feb. 8, 2019, 8:10 pm
Chardonay from Flatbush says:
Are they treating her this way because she is a woman?!?
Feb. 9, 2019, 3:44 am
Fallijah Charles from Brooklyn says:
Why is this only for people who live in that neighborhood? Is it trying to exclude “other” people. We all know what that really means .... dog whistle.
Feb. 9, 2019, 9:35 am
Frank from Furter says:
those of us who have been around a while remember when other cities knocked down their big buildings because frankly they destroy neighborhoods. Landmark districts provide some anchors to the city. Build it bigger is not necessarily better or cheaper really. Lets not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Feb. 9, 2019, 10:33 am
Karen Blondel from Gowanus and Red Hook says:
Mike from Williamsburg NYCHA Carrie's the biggest burden in this rezoning. 8 million gallon sewer tanks... microgrids and con ed sub stations right across the street and in filling their parking lots and open space. Lost of air rights and small businesses that they have supported for years... And to the writer at this paper... We were very clear
Feb. 11, 2019, 9:16 am

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