Gonorrhea aside, the Gowanus Canal is one hot body of water right now. Everyone from developers, to environmentalists, to the special effects masters who invent gags for David Letterman in a canal-front warehouse, has a different idea of what should happen — or not happen — along its oil-laced banks.
This week, however, a veritable dream team of community advocates, including the Carroll Gardens Association, spoke out with a single voice — one that members believe stands a chance of being heard over the ka-ching of the deep-pocketed developers who dream of transforming the gritty, industrial stretch into a wonderland of canal-front condos.
The coalition’s Platform for Responsible Redevelopment of the Gowanus Canal, sent to City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden on Wednesday, is long and a little wonky, but it’s important for all of us who care about keeping carpenters, artists and other non-investment brokers living here.
Here are the main principles (don’t worry, I’ll be brief):
• The area between Bond Street and the canal from Sackett to Third streets should be rezoned for mixed-income housing. Every site with more than 30 units should be required to sell or rent 30 percent of the units at below-market rates. The city-owned Public Place site at Fifth and Smith streets should be 60 percent affordable.
• Manufacturing, industrial, arts and production businesses should be retained and encouraged to grow in existing manufacturing areas south, northeast and northwest of the canal between Baltic and Fifth streets. East of the canal, between Sackett and Third streets, developers should be allowed to build housing as long as they include space for light industry (artist’s studios, carpenters shops) on the ground floors.
• Landowners and the city should work together to create a clean canal where all can enjoy the splendor of Lavender Lake without gagging on the scent of rotting eggs, or catching an STD.
• Construction should be done by union labor.
• All development should keep in character with the surrounding low-rise area.
But as always, the devil is in the details.
Already there has been some sparring over how the redevelopment should be done.
In a presentation to Community Board 6 this spring, City Planning officials said they were considering allowing canal-front buildings to rise 14 stories. Grumbles were audible then, and I don’t imagine that they will quiet as the process moves forward. Responsible Redevelopment coalition member and housing advocate Brad Lander said this week that some residents may just have to, well, suck it up.
“Affordable housing, a mix of uses and environmental quality can all be achieved, but that may take more height and density than some people like,” he said.
Lander said these hot-button details would be hashed out at public meetings later this year as the city moves forward with the public land-use review that will precede any rezoning.
That’s great, but lost in the coming debate will no doubt be the most pressing question: How did that canal get gonorrhea, anyway? Ariella Cohen is a freelancer writer.
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