“What he is asking is that there be a reconsideration by the Department of City Planning [DCP] with regard to how they calculate his use without increasing the FAR [Floor Area Ratio],” Mark Shames, co-chair of the CB6 Land Use & Landmarks Committee explained at the board’s general meeting on Thursday evening. “We did not agree to any specific reevaluation, only that City Planning would look at it, be informed by what Nathan [Elbogen] has been talking to them about, and then decide whether they will do something to accommodate his needs that might be consistent with the mixed-use in the Gowanus neighborhood.”
Nathan Elbogen, President of XØ Projects Inc. and the developer and operator of The Old American Can Factory, plans to develop three of six buildings on the site to create additional light-manufacturing and affordable artist studio space. The three buildings not slated for redevelopment are currently being considered for landmark designation by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
The Old American Can Factory is a 19th-century, 130,000-square-foot, six-building complex originally built for manufacturing. The complex was neglected for decades and purchased by its current owner in 1983, then redeveloped by XØ Projects starting in 1996. Today, the facility provides affordable workspace to a community of 300+ creative tenants.
“If you’re not aware of some of the wonderful businesses that are headquartered in that space, it’s absolutely phenomenal some of the uses they have—publishers, artists, architects, and craftsman,” CB6 Chair Peter Fleming noted. “I think it’s really important that we try and support this use and allow them to do what they need to do to expand the property in a responsible manner. He’s not talking about doing any harm to the landmark portion of it, but there are some small, low buildings that are behind the landmark buildings that he would like to repurpose and perhaps build a slightly taller structure.”
In September, XØ Projects presented plans for the Can Factory to Community Board 6’s Land Use & Landmarks Committee. According to the presentation, current challenges for the property include maintaining affordable rent for tenants and the need for more space for programming, artists, and organizations.
XØ Projects plans to add workshops, public spaces, offices for non-profits and designers, as well as work-live units for artists. Approximately 25% of the work-live units would be reserved for senior artists while an additional 25% would be reserved for low-income artists.
XØ is seeking to “realize” its available zoning square footage and build on top of the existing buildings while preserving the historic structures. The expansion plans include sustainability measures such as recycling rainwater for green roofs, using geo-thermal heating/cooling, and installing solar panels.
The Can Factory is currently zoned C8-2, with a FAR of 2.0 for commercial and 2.8 for community facilities for a maximum of 4.8. The site is built to 2.0 of its existing FAR, according to the presentation. The Can Factory was not included in DCP’s Draft Scope of Work and is not part of the city’s environmental assessment study.
“They need a reconfiguration and frankly what it amounts to is a slight bump up in height,” Shames explained. “He is advocating for a slight bump up in height that would allow him to use the FAR he has productively. He fully intends to keep the property as a mixed-use property with the kind of occupancies that they have now.”
The board voted to support the motion (32 in favor, 0 opposed, and 1 abstention) which “support[s] the applicant’s request that the zoning envelope for the subject property be reevaluated as a part of the Gowanus rezoning and within the DEIS [Draft Environmental Impact Study] without increasing the proposed FAR in light of the imminent landmark designation of the properties and in light of [the board’s] desire to maintain affordable artist spaces within the Gowanus mix,” as Shames recited.
Part of the proposed rezoning, the “Gowanus mix” is intended to preserve industrial uses for light-manufacturing businesses, artists/artisans, and not-for-profit organizations in new developments around the Gowanus Canal.
Along with CB6, Council Member Brad Lander approves redeveloping the portions of The Old American Can Factory complex that are not being considered for landmark designation. “The council member supports accommodation for the Can Factory in the rezoning that would enable them to build a residential tower on their site while also meeting the landmarking requirements, on the condition that they commit to preserve arts, non-profit, and ‘maker’ space within the building,” according to a representative from Lander’s office.
LPC held a hearing last month to discuss designating eight buildings across five lots in Gowanus as individual landmarks.
The sites include:
- The Old American Can Company (formerly Somers Brothers Tinware Factory) at 238-246 3rd Street (3 of the complex’s 6 buildings)
- Gowanus Flushing Tunnel/Pumping Station and Gate House at 196 Butler Street (2 buildings)
- Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) Company Central Powerhouse (the Bat Cave) at 153 2nd Street
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Rogers Memorial Building at 233-237 Butler Street
- Norge Sailmakers Corporation Building at 170-172 2nd Avenue
The sites were selected from a list of 15 priority sites compiled by the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, a group composed of Gowanus residents, local businesses, and community organizations advocating for landmark designation of key historical and architectural sites throughout the neighborhood.
LPC worked with the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP), stakeholders, advocates, and the community in identifying the above five Gowanus sites for landmark consideration. LPC committed to identifying and holding a hearing on the five sites early in the Gowanus rezoning process to ensure that some of the area’s historic character is maintained.
Some landmarking advocates want the entire Can Factory complex landmarked. During the LPC hearing, Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, which is part of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, argued that LPC should consider landmarking the whole site. He testified, “arguably the most historically important portion of this factory complex is being cut out of the landmark site. HDC understands that the southeastern section has undergone alterations at its main façade, but given its extreme historical merit, this portion of the complex deserves to be considered for designation along with the rest of the site before it gets demolished for future development,” according to citylandnyc.org.
A date for LPC’s vote on the designation of the five Gowanus sites has not yet been announced.