September 17 2020

Calling on Koo to vote no on SFWD

by Katherine Donlevy, Associate Editor
Sept. 17, 2020


The mayor announced that the full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure would resume as of Sept. 14, allowing the Special Flushing Waterfront District plan to move forward for the first time since March, and community advocates wasted no time protesting the development.

Approximately 100 protesters gathered in front of the Flushing Library Sept. 12 and marched to City Councilmember Peter Koo’s (D-Flushing) 38th Avenue office, calling on the representative to join them in rejecting the proposed redevelopment of a 29-acre stretch of waterfront industrial property and surrounding land in Downtown Flushing to construct a luxury condominium building, two hotels and retail establishments. The project would lie between 40th Road to the south, College Point Boulevard to the east, 36th Avenue to the north and Flushing Creek to the west.

“What Flushing needs is not luxury development but truly affordable housing that reflects the [area median income] of our neighborhoods, more schools and senior/youth centers, jobs at prevailing wages and benefits, and more environmentally-friendly community and green spaces,” Seonae Byeon, the lead housing organizer of the MinKwon Center, an activist organization that has been at the center of the development’s opposition, said in a statement. “Ultimately, the communities in Downtown Flushing will be the ones to bear the burden of displacement and environmental racism that will occur from this rezoning.”

The development plan was approved by Community Board 7 in February, but disapproved in March by acting Borough President Sharon Lee, who expressed similar concerns of the protesters: lack of affordable housing in the plan, gentrification of the neighborhood and displacement of diverse families who have inhabited the area for generations, increased traffic, congestion and public transit ridership, as well as overcrowding of already strained schools and negative environmental impacts.

The development plan will be heard at the City Planning Commission’s virtual public hearing on Sept. 16 before being moved to the City Council, but organizers are calling on Koo to denounce the plan in advance.

“The Councilmember has been an important advocate for Flushing Creek in the past,” Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator at Guardians of Flushing Bay, told the Chronicle. According to Pryor, Koo has shown concern for the creek’s poor water quality from the over 1 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater that is dumped into it by the city’s sewer system every year.

“In the face of a project that will add over 1,000 new sewer connections and is proposed for a flood zone, Guardians of Flushing Bay needs Councilmember Koo to stand up for Flushing Creek again. We ask this not only for the fish and the critical wetland species that rely on the creek, but also for moderate- and low-income Flushing residents who would benefit from an equitable and environmentally just waterfront plan.”

In addition to rallying in the Flushing streets, MinKwon and Guardians of Flushing Bay representatives, joined by TakeRoot Justice, the Chhaya Community Development Corp., the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and area activist Robert LoScalzo, filed a June lawsuit against the Department of City Planning as another effort to halt the plans. The coalition, also known as Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning, alleged that the DCP allowed the private developers, FWRA LLC, to proceed through the ULURP process without completing an environmental impact statement.

The developers rejected the claim, and alerted those who doubt whether an environmental assessment took place to look up the publicly accessible record. FWRA LLC claims that the development would be a benefit to the community, providing environmental relief to Flushing Creek by upgrading the sewer and drainage systems, providing access to the creek’s waterfront, adding a new publicly accessible road network that would alleviate traffic and more.

“While attempts have been made to drown out the merits of this project by a small group of loud, misguided voices who repeatedly claim we are trying to privatize what is already private land, the Special Flushing Waterfront District developers are busy working to ensure that our community moves forward, not backwards,” a spokesperson for the project told the Chronicle in an email. “In the end, it’s the hard-working people of Flushing that will be affected most if new jobs and significant tax revenues that fund civic works and programs are not created. The dissemination of misleading information from Minkwon and others doesn’t change what we are trying to accomplish. We stand with the community at large and for restarting an economy that continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

After the CPC hears the development’s plan, the project will move to the City Council within 50 days, but protesters are urging Koo to voice his opposition in advance and holding his feet to the fire on previous statements — according to John Park, MinKwon’s executive director, in 2016 Koo stated that a 60 percent AMI was too expensive for Flushing residents and he vowed not to support a development proposal unless it was at 40 percent AMI, but the SFWD plan would rest at 80 percent.

“Council Member Koo hasn’t taken a position on this project at this time, but he understands that the proposed Special Waterfront District would significantly transform the isolated waterfront of Downtown Flushing,” Koo’s Communications Director Scott Sieber told the Chronicle. “We have many outstanding questions, and have been watching the ULURP process very closely. At the end of the day, whatever is ultimately built here will need to enhance the downtown Flushing community and open up our currently inaccessible waterfront as much as is realistically possible.”