December 09 2020

Flushing's Massive Waterfront Rezoning Clears Hurdle After Developers Offer Concessions

BY SOPHIA CHANG
DEC. 9, 2020 5:45 P.M.

https://gothamist.com/news/flushings-massive-waterfront-rezoning-clears-hurdle-after-developers-offer-concessions

A proposal to rezone the industrial waterfront in Flushing for mixed-use development was approved by a City Council committee Wednesday, after developers, elected officials and labor unions came to an agreement on adding hundreds of jobs and more affordable housing.

The City Council’s Committee on Land Use voted 14-1 in favor of the rezoning application, with only Councilmember Inez Barron voting against the application.

The proposal, which is now headed for a full City Council vote, calls for a 13-tower mixed-use development with more than 680,000 square feet of commercial space, nearly 900 hotel rooms and more than 1,700 new apartments.

The 29-acre special district—where Flushing River is bracketed by the Van Wyck Expressway, College Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, a block from the recently built SkyView Center shopping mall—has been a battleground for housing and environmental concerns. Housing activists have accused the developers of seeking to gentrify the largely Asian neighborhood, which has increasingly become out of reach for working class residents. In recent years, luxury condos have sprouted up, marketed to overseas Asian investors.

As part of the new agreement announced Wednesday, the developers agreed to work with two union groups, 32 BJ and Hotels Trade Council, to provide hundreds of jobs in the residential, building and hotel sectors, as well as to hire nearby NYCHA residents. The developers also said they plan to set aside 30 percent of housing stock in one part of the rezoned area for affordable housing and contribute $2 million to support local small businesses over the next decade.

The four project sites would be developed separately by F&T Group, Young Nian Group and United Construction and Development Group, according to the Real Deal.

Additionally, the developers will allot 20,000 square feet for community facilities, public playgrounds, plazas, art installations and pedestrian pathways, as well as 1,000-square-feet of dedicated space for the La Jornada food pantry. They pledged to remediate contaminated areas and make upgrades to sewer and storm drain infrastructure.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson applauded the rezoning deal.

“The Special Flushing Waterfront District will bring good jobs, open space for the public, and economic opportunity to Queens as our city begins to recover from the pandemic and the financial crisis it has caused," Johnson said in a press release.

City Councilmember Peter Koo, who represents Flushing, said in the same press release that the newly-minted Special Flushing Waterfront District will “ensure quality jobs in Flushing, public waterfront access, expanded open space, environmental cleanup, local workforce development, a long-term commitment to affordable housing, and more.”

Koo, whose vote was critical to the plan, called the waterfront a “barren” and “polluted” brownfield. Environmental advocates have criticized the area's poor planning that often leads to flooding and sewage overflow into the creek and Flushing Bay, which results in a strong stench.

He said the project will bring in an estimated $116 million in property tax revenue.

But opponents criticized the deal, saying that the affordable housing piece was unenforceable.

“We need a rezoning plan for all of Flushing so we have control over what gets built here and who it’s for,” the Flushing Workers Center advocacy group said in a Facebook video.

Seonae Byeon, lead housing organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Action, told QNS.com, “We were stripped of our opportunity to hold our Council member accountable to those who will be most impacted, due to the pandemic. While residents continue to grieve and suffer through the pandemic, the City Council should not force this luxury development upon the community. Member deference should not be about the councilmember, it should be about the people and the community in the neighborhood.”

In June, the MinKwon Center and Chhaya CDC filed a lawsuit against the city over the application, arguing that planning officials failed to conduct a full environmental review.

The next court date is January 4th.