Judge Pauses Gowanus Rezoning While City Provides Community Engagement Plan

Judge Pauses Gowanus Rezoning While City Provides Community Engagement Plan
The Gowanus Canal. (Image: Google Maps)

A judge has temporarily stopped the clock on the contested Gowanus rezoning process, ordering the city to provide the court with details for a planned public meeting before the process can continue.

On Friday, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine issued an order that paused the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) until the court approves the Department of City Planning’s plan to organize a hybrid Zoom-and-in-person hearing on the rezoning next month.

The time limits set forth by ULURP rules, Levine wrote, “which require affected community boards to hold public hearings within 60 days of a certified ULURP application, are hereby paused until the court signs off on the detailed plan for the supplemental hearing.”

The large-scale rezoning proposal would enable the creation of 8,500 new housing units in the area, including about 3,000 classified as below-market rate. But the process had been delayed by a legal fight over the use of virtual public hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Levine’s latest request comes about a month after she lifted a restraining order on the rezoning process, allowing it to proceed. The move also started the 60-day clock for Community Boards 2 and 6 to give an advisory recommendation on the plans as part of ULURP by June 18.

The Department of City Planning (DCP) has been working with the community boards to create a forum for public feedback, and a court filing submitted by DCP in response to the order shows the city is planning to hold a hearing at 3:30pm on June 3rd at J.J. Byrne Park.

DCP will set up at least 75 socially-distant chairs on site, and a Zoom link will allow virtual participation for up to 1,000 participants. The hearing will also be live-streamed through DCP’s YouTube channel and on the local television channel BRIC TV.

“The Department of City Planning is closely collaborating with Community Board 6 and 2 on their joint public hearing next month that fulfills the judge’s requirements,” DCP spokesperson Joe Marvilli told Bklyner. “Details will be released ahead of time and we will work to make sure the public can fully participate and make their voices heard on this important proposal to advance affordability, equity and opportunity in Gowanus.”

Levine’s order comes after letters to the judge this week, where two local groups opposed to the rezoning—Voice of Gowanus and F.R.O.G.—argued that the city and state’s recently-announced plan to reopen in May justify placing a new restraining order on the proposal.

“There is no reason why the critical public hearings on the controversial Gowanus project should remain stuck on limited platforms such as Zoom, which severely impair public participation in the rezoning process, while the rest of the City opens up, as the Governor and Mayor have both said the City is ready to do,” the groups’ counsel, Jason Zakai, said in a statement on Friday.

In their filing, the city’s lawyers nevertheless asked Levine to respond to their proposal no later than Tuesday, May 11th, to allow for the community boards to inform the public at their scheduled full board meetings the following day.

As of press time, Levine had not yet approved the city’s plan, but DCP indicated to Bklyner that it expects to move forward with the June hearing and continue the ULURP process throughout the summer and fall.