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Polluted Gowanus Canal fouls up rezoning

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A controversial proposal to designate the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site has left a ballyhooed plan to rezone the surrounding neighborhood stuck in the mud, this paper has learned.

The Department of City Planning, the agency leading the rezoning plan, said this week that it wants to “better understand the approach to clean−up of the canal and its implications for the city’s existing cleanup plans, as well as planned public and private investments in infrastructure, housing, and a range of business activities, before moving forward with the rezoning of the adjacent land.”

The Bloomberg administration is opposed to the Superfund designation, arguing the stigma attached to the federal program reserved for the nation’s most toxic sites will repel private development and delay plans already in place to improve water quality in the polluted waterway. The city is meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency to review and comment on the proposed designation, and submit its proposal for an alternative clean−up plan.

“Environmen­tal review is as groundwork for all rezonings, and it’s prudent to understand all implicatio­ns,” City Planning said in a statement.

The rezoning proposal focuses on 25 blocks bounded by Third Street to the south, Bond street to the west, Fourth Avenue to the east, and Baltic Street to the north. The area would be rezoned from manufacturing to mixed use, opening up the gritty neighborhood to residential development. In some areas of the proposed plan, particularly along the canal’s edge, buildings as high as 12 stories were to be permitted to rise, according to the agency.

City Planning strongly denied that the plan was halted — but admitted that it would not be certified in June, as was expected just months ago, when agency officials said the rezoning of Carroll Gardens and the Gowanus would be occurring simultaneously.

Community Board 6 has been in frequent contact with City Planning on the proposal, which, over the course of nearly two years, its members reviewed and, in part, helped shape. “What [CB 6 Chair ] Richard [Bashner] and I took away from our conversations with City Planning is that the Gowanus rezoning is in a holding pattern for now,” said Craig Hammerman, the board’s district manager. “The explanation we received is that the city needed a better understanding how the Superfund question may or may not effect what City Planning is looking at,” he added.

Bette Stoltz, a member of the group Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus, said it is “recklessly premature” for the city to consider residential housing along the canal. “I suppose now the city is thinking what kind of responsibility they should be taking — I would hope they are,” she added.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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