Lawsuit seeks to void Gowanus rezoning three months after approval

Groups that challenged rezoning last year claim city sidestepped environmental laws

Gowanus (Gowanus Plan, iStock)
Gowanus, with Downtown Brooklyn in the background (Gowanus Plan, iStock)

If at first you don’t succeed, try to get a judge to annul a neighborhood rezoning.

That’s the strategy taken up by Voice of Gowanus and Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, two groups that filed a new lawsuit against the city Monday to challenge the Brooklyn neighborhood’s rezoning.

The complaint alleges that the city violated various state and federal environmental laws when it approved a measure in November allowing mixed-use buildings in the 82-block area, which had previously been mostly restricted to manufacturing use.

The same groups sued last year to prevent the proposal from moving forward, arguing that the City Planning Commission could not legally hold rezoning hearings virtually, even during the height of the pandemic. That effort forced the city to hold a hybrid in-person and virtual hearing, but the rezoning ultimately moved forward.

The groups’ latest challenge claims that the city did not adequately study the environmental consequences of the rezoning, failed to involve the Environmental Protection Agency in the rezoning process and did not take into account the impact of the upzoning on local infrastructure in the context of multiple large-scale developments underway in other parts of the borough.

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“The Gowanus rezoning involves an exceptionally egregious set of failures to comply with the law,” wrote Richard Lippes, an attorney for Voice of Gowanus, in a statement. “This is one of the most complex cases I have seen: the cascading, overlapping failures to comply with state and federal laws is stunning.”

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department called the lawsuit “meritless.”

“The approval process and environmental review were thorough and reflect years of deep community engagement around a vision and plan to make Gowanus a more sustainable and thriving neighborhood,” said Nicholas Paolucci, the city spokesperson, in a statement.

City officials have estimated that the rezoning will pave the way for the construction of more than 8,500 apartments, 3,000 of which would be set aside for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. The administration is also fending off a separate lawsuit filed this month, seeking to undo the recent rezoning of Soho and Noho.