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    12.19.12 Community Development Clinic Puts Gowanus Development Under Legal Scrutiny
    David Reiss
    Professor David Reiss’ Community Development Clinic routinely represents the voices and concerns of community organizations hoping to shape the future of the distinct neighborhoods of Brooklyn. This fall, it was retained by the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (“FROGG”) and were placed in the center of the legal battle surrounding the controversial Gowanus development.

    Over the past few years, the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, a former industrial corridor, has been the subject of substantial commercial and residential development. One of the area’s developers, The Lightstone Group, is planning a residential complex on the banks of the Gowanus Canal and is waiting for the Department of City Planning (DCP) to hear its application to modify its previously approved permit. The amended plans call for changes in height, footprint, parking entrances, open space — and an increase in residential units from 447 to 700. In response to its application to modify its permit, FROGG, a not-for-profit community organization devoted to the preservation of the history and heritage of the Gowanus area in South Brooklyn, retained the Community Development Clinic.

    FROGG questioned the DCP’s contention that modifications in this context are not subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”) so long as they are deemed “minor.” Jeffrey Ling ’14, Grady Southard ’13, and Sarah Udashkin ’13, students in the clinic, determined that the DCP exceeded its authority on two fronts. First, the clinic argued that the DCP lacks the legal authority to consider and grant “minor modification” applications outside of ULURP. Second, the clinic contended that the DCP relies on impermissible criteria in evaluating modifications. In addition, the clinic determined that the DCP did not account for an increase in floor area, which would render the change “major.” The clinic argued that since the City does not have the necessary authority to be conducting this review, it should deny Lightstone’s proposal.

    “By moving forward with this ad hoc process, the DCP is ignoring the community’s interests by overstepping its authority and prioritizing expediency over transparency,” said Ling. “FROGG hopes to prevent the DCP from taking further action on Lightstone’s application and others like it in the future.”

    Professor Reiss was very impressed with his students work. “Navigating land use issues in New York City is difficult enough for the experienced practitioner,” he said. “To do so, and so well, as students is tremendous.”

    Read more on Pardon Me for Asking, The Real Deal, Brownstoner, and Curbed.
BLS LawNotes - Spring 2014

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