Voice of Gowanus Challenges “Virtual” Review Process and Lack of Charter Notice
GOWANUS, BROOKLYN - Attorneys for community coalition Voice of Gowanus (VOG) just filed suit against New York City’s Department of City Planning. The legal suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Kings County, challenges the city’s illegal and inequitable plan to use a so-called “virtual” land use review procedure for the proposed Gowanus rezoning, which the suit alleges will disenfranchise many in the community. The suit, which also calls out the city’s failure to provide notice mandated by the city charter, seeks a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to block the city from certifying the rezoning on January 19th, 2021.
“The city has failed to respond to the community’s numerous equity, transparency and access concerns about its proposed virtual-only public review process, and has left my clients no choice but to bring this proceeding in Court today seeking to halt the de Blasio Administration’s unlawful attempt to silence the community’s voices,” said VOG’s attorney Jason Zakai of Hiller, P.C. “Today’s legal action shines a light on the city’s failure to follow its basic legal responsibilities under the City Charter, which are supposed to protect the community's right to participate fully in major land-use decisions, even if that requires a pause to rezonings such as this one until the pandemic is at least brought under control. There is simply no reason for rushing through this proposal right now.”
The VOG legal filing outlines equity and access issues impacting the public’s ability to participate in virtual-only hearings, including technology literacy, access to internet-enabled devices, financial ability to pay for internet service, and real-time translation services, none of which have been comprehensively addressed by the city since its attempted re-launch of virtual land use hearings in September.
Atiya Stroman, a longtime public housing resident of Wyckoff Gardens, says in her affidavit filed with the petition, “The City and the other Respondents are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to move forward without the full and proper input of the community, and especially public housing residents, on the Gowanus Rezoning Plan. This is unacceptable; the City and its public officials cannot dismiss our opinions. We must be heard!”
The petition articulates the many ways that the city’s virtual-only attempt at the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP) would undermine the community’s right to organize, assemble, and effectively be heard.
“For those of us with visual impairments, a Zoom meeting does not afford us the same degree of participation that an in-person public hearing would,” said Linda Mariano, a Gowanusian for more than four decades and a member of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG). “Not by any means! It would deprive us of our civil rights under law.”
Seeking to prevent injustice for all those who would be deprived of their rights to a fair ULURP process, VOG legal filing calls for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The Gowanus Legal Defense Fund continues to generate financial support for VOG suits to defend Gowanus.
Many people around New York City, including in Gowanus, have witnessed firsthand just how limiting and inadequate public meetings can be when held online. It would almost be laughable if so much was not at stake for our community.
Martin Bisi, a resident and Gowanus business owner since 1981, is outraged by the glitches and poor functionality of the city’s system that he experienced during recent meetings hosted by Brooklyn Community Board 6. “If the platform isn't ready to be used, then they shouldn't be using it at all,” Bisi said. “I’m so glad the community came together to file this lawsuit and stop this unjust process.”
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