With a controversial rezoning on the horizon, Gowanus preservationists won a key battle on Tuesday following the decision by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider five turn-of-the 20th century properties in the neighborhood for landmark designation.
Preservationists have been fighting for years to landmark buildings in the industrial waterfront neighborhood, which has managed to maintain most of its low-slung skyline. The buildings to be considered include the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pump House and Gate House at 209 Douglass Street, which was built beginning in 1905 as part of the canal's flushing system and is still in use today; and the ASPCA Memorial Building and Horse Trough at 233 Butler Street, which opened in 1913 as the original Brooklyn headquarters of the ASPCA.
The effort to protect Gowanus's historic buildings became all the more pressing after the city officially launched a major rezoning plan in January that would add 8,200 new apartments by 2035 and incentivize mixed-use development along the Gowanus canal. Among other community members, the rezoning has worried preservationists who fear it will presage the loss of historic buildings and the neighborhood's industrial character.
In nearby Red Hook, preservationists are still reeling from the ongoing demolition of S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, an 1880s building that sits on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.
Amid unprecedented growth in Brooklyn, many preservation attempts have tended to be too little too late. But the commission’s vote to flag or “calendar” the five properties for landmarking comes several months in advance of the city’s rezoning process, and presumably gives the commission adequate time to protect the buildings ahead of development pressures. By calendaring the five properties, the Landmarks commission has agreed to hold a public hearing on the merits of landmark designation. It also means that the Department of Buildings must notify the commission of any permit requests, which would give the members time to landmark buildings facing immediate demolition or redevelopment.
City Councilmember Brad Lander, who alongside the Gowanus Landmarking Coaltion urged the commission to calendar the buildings, said the Department of City Planning was probably six months away from certifying the rezoning plan, which kicks off the official public review process.
“Doing it earlier means we have a better planning process,” Lander told Gothamist.
Similarly, Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, commended the commission’s action as “the smart way of doing” preservation.
However, Tuesday's decision does not mean the city will entirely dodge controversy in Gowanus in the coming months. The plan to rezone the neighorhood has drawn heated debate, with many residents questioning whether the additional development will produce sufficiently affordable housing, address calls for sustainable development, and possibly undermine the ongoing $500 million federal Superfund cleanup of the toxic Gowanus canal.
Under city rules, the commission has two years to hold a public hearing on the landmarking proposal, but Lander said he expected the commission would address the issue sooner rather than later.