Judge Stalls Controversial Gowanus Rezoning After Local Lawsuit

BROOKLYN, NY — The start of the Gowanus rezoning's journey through the city's land use review process has been put on hold after a lawsuit from opponents of the plan.

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge issued a temporary restraining order on the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan on Friday, halting the Jan. 19 kick-off of the proposal until at least a Jan. 27 court hearing.

The decision comes after Voice of Gowanus, a group long-opposed to the city-led plan, filed a lawsuit contending issues with transparency and the switch to virtual instead of in-person meetings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a huge relief to our clients and many other community members, who have serious concerns about the lack of equity, access and transparency around the project, and want a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” VOG's Attorney Jason Zakai said about the decision.

Voice of Gowanus filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming the city's plan to start the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure for the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan next week would be "illegal and inequitable" given that the meetings would be held virtually instead of in-person.

The lawsuit, filed against the Department of City Planning, which is leading the Gowanus plan, comes several months after Voice of Gowanus first flagged their concern with moving ahead through virtual meetings.

The Gowanus rezoning, which has been in the works for a decade, would change zoning rules in a large swath of the neighborhood in the hopes of spurring a mix of development, including new affordable housing.

Voice of Gowanus has argued that the plan would exacerbate environmental concerns along the polluted Gowanus Canal, which is undergoing a federal clean-up, and are worried about the estimated 18,000 new residents it would bring to the neighborhood.

They contend in the lawsuit that online meetings pose problems for those who need translation services, don't have internet access or are visually impaired.

City officials have argued that virtual meetings actually make the civic process more accessible.

"The U.S. Supreme Court uses remote meetings. So does the New York City Council. These meetings aren't just legal and obviously appropriate in a pandemic – they have increased participation and opened the process to those unable to attend in-person," Nick Paolucci, spokesperson for the city's law department, said in response to the lawsuit. "...We are confident that we're fully complying with the law."

The suit also argues that the city failed to provide notice about the upcoming ULURP mandated by the city charter. Both DCP and the community board have maintained that the city provided proper notice.

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This article originally appeared on the Park Slope Patch