Gowanus: Soaring to new heights or keeping a low profile?

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Gowanus residents are split over whether to allow high-rise development in the neighborhood, according to locals who attended the unveiling of a list of rezoning demands on Monday night.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus) and the Pratt Center for Community Development presented the draft Bridging Gowanus neighborhood planning document at the meeting, discussing for the first time the synthesized results of a year of community brainstorming sessions. Activists in attendance questioned a portion of the document that calls for allowing apartment towers within a certain height range in the predominately low-rise residential and manufacturing area.

“It’s difficult to believe a majority of the community would give up our beautiful open skies for eight-to-18-story buildings,” said Linda Mariano.

But some residents of the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens public housing developments bristled at the blanket condemnation of building big.

“I live on the 21st story of my building, and I may cast you a shadow, but that’s my home,” said Charlene Nimmons, a Wyckoff Gardens resident. “If you say to hell with me and what I think, I might say to hell with you and what you think.”

An impromptu straw poll initiated by Mariano showed that about 60 percent of the 70-100 people present opposed inviting high-rises while 40 percent approved.

The response to the document’s other demands, including added flood control infrastructure, stronger protections for artists and industry, more affordable housing, and stricter protections for rent-regulated tenants, was largely favorable. Even formerly vocal foes of the process hailed its findings.

“I really do think there has been a lot of listening happening,” said Joseph Alexiou, who in July headed a protest disrupting a Bridging Gowanus meeting and tried to mount an alternate planning process. “I’m amazed at how much got into the report.”

The document is meant to preempt a potential rezoning, and to avoid patchwork development as property values in surrounding neighborhoods continue to rise and realtors eye the area despite the Gowanus Canal’s designation as a federal Superfund site in 2010. The city solicited neighborhood input for a possible rezoning over the course of three years starting in 2007, but pressed pause when the feds called for the pollution cleanup that is set to take at least until 2024.

Despite the largely favorable response on Monday, few suggestions outlined in the draft found unanimous support. The document calls for beefing up the neighborhood’s antiquated sewer system, which already floods the canal with filth during heavy rains, to accommodate the additional toilets that would come with new development. But that issue is already mired in controversy as residents have opposed the federal proposal to place massive sewage retention tanks beneath Thomas Greene Park and the Douglass and Degraw pool, which the city recently announced its support of.

One neighbor who expressed measured support for the proposal worried that the city and developers may see only what they want to see among the report’s many recommendations.

“If you take this to the city all they are going to see is ‘18-story buildings,’ ” said Carl Teitelbaum, a business owner and activist. “What happens if they cherry-pick?”

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Bruce R. from Mansion the Hill says:
"whether to allow" yeah right.
Nov. 25, 2014, 12:35 pm
da editah says:
"The document is meant to preempt a potential rezoning...." This sentence makes no sense. The whole process was engineered to develop a framework for a rezoning.
Nov. 25, 2014, 1:04 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Thank goodness for people like Charlene Nimmons! Though she sounds a lot more civil than I think those selfish people deserved to be treated.
Nov. 25, 2014, 3:01 pm
Ugh from Gowanus says:
The point that those "selfish" people trying to make that it is unconscionable that maintenance and replacements have been neglected for so long and that maybe out electeds need to fight harder and that these sorely needed repairs should not be tied to revenue that may or may not come in the future. Those repairs and replacements need to be addressed NOW.

Brad had a few meetings with some groups before last night's presentation. Methinks he may be playing various factions off one another.
Nov. 25, 2014, 4:05 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
@mike, same thing i thought. It seems like every time a community meeting is held, there's not much regard for residents in the PJs, as if they dont count. Over half the people at the meeting probably didnt even live in gowanus til a few years ago. Set 'em straight, charlene!
Nov. 25, 2014, 4:10 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
Besides, the parole office is gonna open in a few months so hopefully it'll drive away some of these selfish yups outta the neighborhood.
Nov. 25, 2014, 4:15 pm
Ugh from Gowanus says:
Many of those yups have been here for decades or were born here. The newly arrived yups weren't there and are probably unaware what is going on or don't care.

I hope the parole office opens. And I personally have no problem with a big box store especially with the loss of Met Food and the explosion of high end retail.
Nov. 25, 2014, 4:35 pm
Linda Imperriato from Gowanus says:
Lander is vile; if even 5% of the people in his district paid attention to this cretin he'd be reviled by all as the bankrupt political whore he is. As it is, I imagine Albany's next!
Nov. 25, 2014, 7:03 pm
local says:
Most at the meeting live in SI or NJ and are looking for development rights in Gowanus. They were the ones who supported high rise.
So since when is a community plan one based on wishes of those living in another state?
Nov. 25, 2014, 9:42 pm
Lieb says:
Happy Hanukkah.
Nov. 25, 2014, 9:48 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Local, I referred to those who oppose taller buildings as "those selfish people," because they are dressing up their desire to keep people from moving into their neighborhood, which they don't own or control and shouldn't, in talk about neighborhood preservation.
Nov. 26, 2014, 1:21 am
jjm from c. hill says:
I say building more public housing in gowanus, along 4th ave in particular.
Nov. 26, 2014, 4:24 pm
JB from pln says:
two lux towers on the corners of the eastern side of Thomas Green Park at 3rd ave. using models proposed for Brooklyn Bridge Park, the buildings will support the park.
similar lux condo tower on the court yards of Wyckoff would fund infrastructure upgrades for NYCHA housing, elevators. Additional floors added to buildings not at 18 stories.
NYCHA residents support of framework moves planning forward
Nov. 26, 2014, 4:52 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
The new buildings on 4th ave are so freaking ugly. A bulldozer would be a perfect fit.
Nov. 26, 2014, 9:19 pm
Map needed from un mapped plans says:
I heard roomers a while back about turing the Wyckoff houses into condos, were they that actually about adding new high rise towers in the NYCHA complex. Ar those the 18 story buildings that the councilmen are talking about here?
Nov. 28, 2014, 9:33 pm
guest from NJ says:
Wyckoff Gardens totally welcomes 18 story buildings in their back yard.
Dec. 1, 2014, 4:44 pm

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