July 23 2020

Progress for SFWD soon to resume


Controversial plan’s hearing slated for September, lawsuit still ongoing

by Katherine Donlevy, Associate Editor
Jul 23, 2020 Updated Jul 24, 2020


At his daily press briefing on July 15, Mayor de Blasio noted that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure will start up again in the near future, with the City Planning Commission beginning remote meetings in August. One of the developments whose progress down the ULURP pipeline was halted by the pandemic, the Special Flushing Waterfront District, is slated to be analyzed at one of such virtual meetings.

“After what Flushing — and the world —has gone through, the pandemic has given us as developers a new level of motivation to ensure the Special Flushing Waterfront District comes to fruition,” the developers behind FWRA, LLC told the Chronicle. “While we have maintained excitement about this project from the start, the news about the ULURP process resuming has only heightened our motivation to see this through.”

The highly controversial proposal to rezone and redevelop the 29-acre stretch of waterfront industrial property and surrounding land in Downtown Flushing seeks to extend the district to the waterfront, improve pedestrian flow and vehicular movement, add affordable housing and improve the water quality of Flushing Creek. 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.

The developers claim the project will provide the community with nearly 3,000 permanent jobs, bring in billions in private investment and create tens of millions in annual property tax revenues alone, which can in turn be used to fund hospitals, schools, affordable housing and other community infrastructures. Additionally, the project will give residents access to a public waterfront greenspace, the pollution of which will be cleaned by a privately funded environmental cleanup crew.

The plan was met with doubt from the community, who shared concerns with the lack of affordable housing in it, gentrification of the neighborhood and displacement of diverse families who have inhabited the area for generations. Residents gathered at Community Board 7 and Borough President Office hearings for the plan to protest its implementation, claiming the development would increase traffic, congestion and public transit ridership, as well as overcrowding of already-strained schools.

In an effort to stop the development, several area organizations teamed up to sue the Department of City Planning, alleging that the agency allowed the private developers to proceed through the ULURP process without conducting an environmental impact statement.

“COVID-19, if nothing else, highlighted all of the flaws in the developments in New York City and the Flushing plan is no different,” said William Spisak, the director of Housing Justice at Chhaya Community Development Corporation, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit. MinKwon Center for Community Action, the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and local activist Robert LoScalzo are also involved in the suit.

“Look at how many people lost jobs, are on the brink of eviction or foreclosure ... We’re anticipating an expanding housing crisis, so the idea that what Downtown Flushing needs right now is 1,700 luxury condos is insane. It was insane before, it’s even more insane now,” said Spisak.

Spisak said that Flushing is already dealing with a congestion problem, an issue the development would only contribute to. Rather than bringing more residents into the neighborhood, which would subsequently push current ones out, he said the land should be used to build more hospitals, schools and green spaces, a need the pandemic has highlighted.

“We think, from top to bottom, the whole proposal is wrong for Flushing, wrong for Queens,” he said. “Everyone realizes that’s not what Flushing needs.”

A concrete date has not been chosen for the development’s hearing before the CPC, but Spisak said he was told it will tentatively take place in September and will be held virtually. It will be open to the public.