A state Supreme Court judge has temporarily halted the Gowanus rezoning proposal.
The City Planning Commission can’t certify the rezoning application until after a hearing is held on Jan. 27, according to an order signed by Judge Donald Kurtz on Friday. The order was in response to a lawsuit filed last week by a coalition of neighborhood groups seeking to block City Planning from certifying the application, which would kick off the city’s seven-month land use review.
“This is a huge relief to our clients and many other community members, who have serious concerns about the lack of equity, access and transparency around the project, and want a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” attorney Jason Zakai, who represents one of the groups in the coalition, Voice of Gowanus.
The city is seeking to rezone 80 blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood, which would pave the way for the construction of an estimated 8,200 residential units, of which 3,000 would be affordable. Though the city is keen to complete the rezoning before the end of the de Blasio administration, it has yet to commit to including capital funding for two local New York City Housing Authority developments as part of its proposal. Support from Brooklyn Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin hinges on this funding, and the rezoning hinges on their backing.
The lawsuit claims that it is unlawful for the city to move forward with the Gowanus rezoning because it would need to hold hearings virtually rather than in-person. Doing so as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure would wrongfully “deprive” community members “the opportunity to physically attend public hearings alongside like-minded attendees and show solidarity in support of a certain position with respect to the Massive Rezoning.”
The complaint also alleges that City Planning failed to send application materials to local community boards and the Brooklyn borough president in a timely fashion, as required under Ulurp.
Despite its failure to adequately notify the public, City Planning expected to certify the Gowanus rezoning application on Jan. 19, according to the lawsuit.
In response to the judge’s order, a representative for the mayor’s office said the city is looking forward to “winning this case, beginning certification, and delivering a rezoning proposal New York City can be proud of.”
“If it were easy to bring affordable housing to Gowanus and clean up the canal, then someone would’ve done it already,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for the city said in a statement. “Virtual meetings aren’t just legal and obviously appropriate in a pandemic – they have increased participation and opened the process to those unable to attend in person.”
Throughout the pandemic, various government bodies, including the City Council, have held public meetings remotely. Last year, concerns were raised about the city’s Rent Guidelines Board going virtual with its meetings. The board’s tenant representatives had called for the hearings to be delayed, saying virtual proceedings would prevent crucial interactions between tenants and board members. Those hearings, however, ultimately moved forward.
“Look, this is a pandemic. [The Gowanus coalition’s case] sounds like the arguments that you can only vote in person, that you can’t vote by mail,” said Gary Tarnoff, co-chair of Kramer Levin’s land use department. “People who are opposed to this are just grasping for straws, in my view.”