De Blasio wades into Gowanus rezoning, seeks dismissal of lawsuit
Administration says mayor’s executive order ends debate about virtual hearings
The de Blasio administration is urging the court to dismiss a lawsuit holding up the rezoning of Gowanus, saying a recent executive order negates claims that hearings must be held in person.
In a legal filing Wednesday, the city pointed to a March 13 executive order signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio suspending rules that community board hearings for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure must be at a “place of convenient public assembly.”
Community groups fighting the rezoning have demanded the city postpone the rezoning approval process until in-the-flesh hearings return.
An attorney for the city, Rachel Ramirez-Guest, argued that the groups’ claims didn’t hold water even before the executive order, but that the mayor’s action eliminates any ambiguity on the matter.
“We’re urging the court to dismiss this case because there is no legal basis to support these claims,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement.
He noted that virtual meetings have increased public participation. “This litigation is preventing community voices from being heard and is delaying the creation of jobs, housing, open spaces, and a number of other community amenities.” (A final benefits agreement between the administration and the local City Council members, Brad Lander and Steve Levin, has not been reached.)
Jason Zakai, an attorney for plaintiff Voice of Gowanus, issued a statement calling the executive order “an obvious and desperate attempt to bypass the judicial process.”
A state judge in January temporarily halted the application to rezone 80 blocks of Gowanus in response to the suit, which argues hearings on the proposal can’t be held remotely under city rules. The complaint also accused City Planning of violating new regulations around notifying the public of its intention to move forward with a rezoning application.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Katherine Levine has indicated that she thinks the city provided ample notice. And while she has supported the idea of finding ways to increase public access to the process, she has repeatedly said that remote hearings are an unavoidable part of the pandemic.
The city is now calling on the coalition to show why the judge shouldn’t dismiss its lawsuit. At a minimum, the city wants the judge to allow the rezoning application to be certified and move forward through the Ulurp process.
Supporters of the rezoning are worried that the lawsuit will delay the seven-month process enough so that it cannot be completed before de Blasio, Lander and Levin leave office at the end of the year, which would throw the outcome into doubt.