Local Residents Urge Councilman Koo to Oppose Flushing Rezoning
By Lewis Latimer, Patch Mayor
Sep 14, 2020 10:00 am ET
Community residents led by MinKwon Center for Community Action, Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance (FADA), and Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning (FED UP) organized a protest in Flushing, Queens, to urge New York City Council Member Peter Koo to oppose the redevelopment of the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD). With more than 80 local Flushing residents and allies in attendance, the protest comes the weekend before the City Planning Commission's (CPC) public hearing on SFWD on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
"In 2016, when some of the same developers were attempting to rezone the same area, NY Council Member Peter Koo said the 60% AMI was too expensive for Flushing residents, and vowed he would not support a development proposal unless it was at 40% AMI. The current proposal carved out just over 3% of total units for affordable housing at 80% AMI, double the threshold," stated John Park, Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action. "We've learned the developers spent more money lobbying New York City Council members than any other entity in the entire City, and Ross Mowkositz was recently listed in City & State as the 22nd most influential lobbyist in NYC, and under notable clients, only one entity is listed: FRWA LLC. CM Koo has two choices, do the right thing and vote against this rezoning proposal so that local Flushing residents and small business owners, his constituents, can stay in the neighborhood and keep his promise to the community, or continue being in the pocket of the developers."
The SFWD proposal, developed by a consortium of private developers called FWRA LLC, would transform downtown Flushing by adding 1,725 new luxury condos, two new hotels, and high-end retail establishments to the dense urban neighborhood. In return for City approval, the developers promise to build 51 housing units priced at 80% of the area median income, well above what most local residents can afford. Despite serious social, economic, environmental, and infrastructural concerns, Community Board 7 voted in support of SFWD in a non-binding vote on February 10, 2010. On March 13, Queens Borough President Sharon Lee stated her opposition to the SFWD in response to community concerns. Soon afterwards, the City temporarily paused ULURP for all development projects due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CPC is expected to vote on SFWD on November 4, followed by a vote in the City Council later this year.
"We know that our communities are facing increasing pressure from gentrification and are being displaced at an accelerating rate because the city has failed to consider how massive luxury developments like the Flushing Special Waterfront District impact the surrounding community. While speculative real estate causes rents and property taxes to rise for our community members, living conditions deteriorate as our schools, hospitals, and transit systems become overwhelmed. Available land is put to use to serve the interest of the investors and developers but fails to meet the needs of the community members who have made Flushing the neighborhood it is today," stated William Spisak, Director of Housing Justice at Chhaya CDC. "We believe that by not requiring the developers to conduct a full environmental impact and allow for community input, the city has fast tracked yet another project that will lead to more displacement, more overcrowding, and further contribute to the widening gap of wealth inequality that is splitting our city in two. We urge CM Koo to stop this process now by coming out against the plan."
Members of the FEDUP Coalition urged community members to voice their concerns about the Special Flushing Waterfront District in the upcoming New York City Planning Commission hearing on September 16, starting at 10 a.m. In addition to testifying at the hearing, local residents and business owners can also submit their written comments online on the New York City Department of City Planning website at nyc.gov/planning.
"Our community is in crisis: two out of three of our restaurants are expected to close by the end of this year and 10,000 residents line up at La Jornada food pantry every week suffering from mass unemployment, unable to pay rent or feed their families. Instead of addressing these critical issues, Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to push through large-scale luxury development projects like SFWD, which is expected to exacerbate our crisis and displace local residents and business owners," stated John Choe, Executive Director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. "We urge CM Koo to prioritize the needs of our people over the demands of developers. Please listen to your constituents and oppose Mayor de Blasio's Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal."
The MinKwon Center for Community Action along with the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Chhaya CDC, have filed a lawsuit that seeks to stop the SFWD because the City's Department of City Planning allowed developers to avoid conducting a comprehensive environmental review of the proposed project. Community advocated argue that approving such a large-scale development without the required EIS deprives local residents and business owners an opportunity to comment and demand mitigation measures for the immense environmental, economic, and social disruptions the project is expected to generate in one of the most built-up and densely-populated areas of New York.
"The proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District is yet another episode in an ongoing saga where equitable access to resources and environmental quality are not prioritized in downtown Flushing. We ask that CM Koo, an advocate for open space and water quality, vote no on the SFWD," stated Rebecca Pryor, Program Coordinator at Guardians of Flushing Bay. "In addition to its insulting lack of affordable housing and public amenities, the proposal would add over 1000 new sewer connections to the overburdened Flushing Creek sewershed without a proper environmental review. With the COVID-19 crisis still ongoing, this is neither the time nor the place to introduce a large-scale waterfront project without a robust and meaningful environmental review. This is the time to prioritize Flushing communities and our local ecology."
Rally organizers also criticized the City's insensitivity to the plight of Flushing community members still reeling from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic by restarting the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and forcing through the SFWD without allowing local residents and business owners a real opportunity to voice their concerns to the City Planning Commission. The Commission's hearing will be virtual and disproportionately burdens working families and individuals with limited incomes who do not have access to video conference tools.
"Due to COVID-19, many people are struggling. Hundreds of people have died in Flushing alone. People are receiving fake eviction letters and getting harassed by their landlords during the eviction moratorium. We witness an increasing number of homeless brothers and sisters on the street. According to a report from the NYC Comptroller's office, 41% of Flushing residents do not have internet access, yet CPC plans to hold a hearing virtually. While residents continue to grieve and suffer through the pandemic, the City assumes that now is an appropriate time to shove this luxury development down our throats, instead of focusing on providing relief to the community. Participating in a virtual hearing during this crisis is simply out of reach for our low-income Limited English Proficiency senior residents, and only serves to further squelch the community's voices, stated Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center. "What Flushing needs is not luxury development but truly affordable housing that reflects the AMI of our neighborhoods, more schools and senior/youth centers, jobs at prevailing wages and benefits, and more environmentally-friendly community and green spaces. 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."