This Is the Beginning of Gowanus’s New Skyline

Photo: Max Touhey

Gowanus, the neighborhood best known for the toxic sludge at the bottom of its namesake canal, has become a place where you can go barhopping or peruse the aisles of a Whole Foods, but it has never fully shed its industrial past. But now developers set on transforming it into the Venice of Brooklyn are about to get the green light from a city-led zoning overhaul that has been more than ten years in the making. Today, the City Council passed an expansive rezoning that will bring an estimated 8,200 new apartments, including 3,000 affordable units, to an 82-block swath of Gowanus by 2035. This rezoning is the first the de Blasio administration has achieved in a mostly white and wealthy community and the first to undergo a racial-impact study. It marks a long-awaited shift: Instead of redeveloping a low-income community of color, the city is bringing new density to a more affluent neighborhood with the expectation the rezoning will bring more diversity to the area.

Developers have been strategically snapping up low-rise industrial buildings, particularly around the canal, for the last decade in anticipation of the rezoning. Some — like Domain Properties and Property Markets Group, which own large chunks of land in the neighborhood — now essentially have the power to reshape it. The neighborhood will be mostly reoriented toward the waterfront, where there will be a new network of public esplanades, parkland, and plaza space with shops and eateries dotting brand-new streets — as well as plenty of new luxury housing. The plan will essentially remake both the neighborhood and community. Here are some of the big projects on the horizon.

1. Gowanus Green
This is the city’s big affordable-housing play in Gowanus: a six-building residential complex built on a 5.6-acre vacant lot along the canal. All 950 apartments will have below-market rents — with 50 percent dedicated to households that earn $51,200 for a family of three. The city-owned land is infamous for its coal-tar contamination, but state and federal officials have said they will monitor construction to ensure the project is safe.

2. 272 Fourth Avenue
Developer Avery Hall Investments is betting big on air rights with its hopes to build an even taller sleek glass tower. They’ve proposed a 14-story building for the corner of Fourth Avenue and Carroll Street with 125 apartments. But if they manage to snag 50,000 square feet of city-owned air rights from a neighboring MTA substation, Avery Hall will bulk up the project with another 75 apartments. With the air rights, the project would cost around $120 million; without them, it will come in at roughly $90 million.

3. 204 Fourth Avenue
Avery Hall is hoping to beef up another project too — but this time by throwing money at the local subway station. The developer has offered to build the city a new subway entrance with an elevator at the base of the project, which sits atop the Union Street R station. In exchange, Avery Hall wants an extra 50,000 square feet for its 17-story tower.

Avery Hall plans to build a glassy new tower at 272 4th Avenue (2). Art: Courtesy of Avery Hall Investments

4. 473 President Street / 514 Union Street
This sprawling property is made up of nine separate parcels and ten warehouse buildings. The land is contaminated with coal tar from the canal and will require remediation before construction can begin. No formal plans have been filed for the site, but Avery Hall’s website says it will be a multiphase megadevelopment, and it will remake half of Union Street between Nevins Street and Third Avenue. The finished project will include roughly 300 mixed-income apartments and space for shops and offices.

5. 404 Carroll Street
This skyline-altering development would bring a mixed-use complex to 404 Carroll Street with two high points: a 21-story west tower and a 16-story east tower. The 360-unit development from the Vorea Group will be among the tallest new projects in the neighborhood.

6. 540 Degraw Street
Less than half a mile from the Carroll Street project, Vorea has filed plans for an 11-story building that would bring 268 apartments to the block. It would also come with space for retail and offices. Vorea has already filed demolition plans for the existing redbrick warehouse.

7. 267 Bond Street 
Property Markets Group was among the earliest to bet on a Gowanus rezoning, first buying industrial properties in 2012. PMG has amassed a large development site — the size of nearly two football fields — on the western banks of the canal including 267 Bond. No plans have been filed yet, but it is a safe bet PMG will build apartments that capitalize on the killer views of the toxic canal.

Gowanus Green (1) will be a six-building residential campus with a school and 1.5-acre public park along the canal. Art: Courtesy of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development

8. 553 Sackett Street
Domain Properties began scooping up industrial properties near the canal in 2017. The following year, the developer noted that its properties were part of the Bridging Gowanus community plan — the precursor to the city’s formal rezoning effort. With the rezoning finally approved, Domain stands to reshape a handful of properties that all roughly border the canal and will no doubt build apartments that capitalize on views overlooking the waterway. No formal plans have been filed with the city yet, but hundreds of new apartments and retail space are basically a given.

9. 380 4th Avenue
With its fleet of yellow cabs perpetually parked out front, the bright red-and-yellow taxi depot on 4th Avenue has been a fixture of the neighborhood for more than a decade. But it is now set to be demolished with the single-story building giving way to a new 17-story high-rise planned by Quinlan Development Group that will bring 197 apartments to the block. Construction is expected to wrap up by 2024.

10. 577 Union Street
In 2019, Tavros Capital and Charney Companies purchased this large corner property at Third Avenue and Union Street just a block from the canal. The former South Brooklyn Casket Company, a single-story redbrick factory building, will be demolished to make way for a nine-story high-rise with 214 apartments and space for shops on the ground floor.

Avery Hall has offered to build a new subway entrance at the base of 204 Fourth Avenue (3) so it can build bigger. Art: Courtesy of Avery Hall Investments

11. 251 Douglass Street
Tavros and Charney picked up another former manufacturing site: a beat-up two-story building that once housed the Quality Woodworking Corporation and sits just blocks from the mouth of the canal. Last week, the developers filed plans to build a 13-story building with 261 new apartments on the site.

12. 129 3rd Street
The small firm Orange Management also hopped on the Gowanus bandwagon, filling plans last week — after the rezoning was pretty much a sure thing — for a 14-story tower with 84 apartments at 129 3rd Street near the canal. On the other side of the block, Orange has plans for a more modest development: an eight-story building at 136 2nd Street that would build 29 new apartments to the street.

13. Renovation at Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens complexes
The rezoning includes an unprecedented commitment from the city to fund $200 million in renovations at the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens public-housing developments, both of which reside just outside the rezoning’s footprint. The support of City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin, who had the make-or-break votes on the plan, said their support hinged on funding sorely needed repairs at the complexes. Those upgrades will focus on replacing kitchens and bathrooms, updating plumbing and electrical, and updating flooring, doors, and light fixtures in individual apartments. The city says it will also finally renovate and reopen the developments’ community centers as part of the plan.

This Is the Beginning of Gowanus’s New Skyline