December 17 2020

Waterfront district coming to Flushing

By Katherine Donlevy
Dec 17, 2020

Despite months of community opposition and numerous protests, the City Council last week gave the Special Flushing Waterfront District the green light, approving a plan that would rezone 29-acres of Downtown Flushing for luxury condominiums, hotels, offices, stores and a new road network.

But its adversaries are not giving up the fight yet.

“City Council has allowed a massive takeover of 1,700+ luxury apartments and a privatized waterfront with vastly inadequate and unenforceable ‘concessions,’” MinKwon Center for Community Action, one of the leading protesters, said in a statement following the 39-5 vote.

The activist organization is continuing to pursue a June lawsuit challenging the proposal’s omission of an environmental impact statement, which they say should render it and its approval illegitimate. Rather than completing an EIS, the developers conducted a less thorough environmental assessment.

A considerable number of councilmembers had opposed the SFWD in the weeks before the vote, until the developers agreed to modify aspects of their plan in an effort to provide more community benefits. The promise of quality jobs for Flushing residents, doubled public waterfront access, 20,000 square feet of community facility space and more was enough to sway a significant portion of elected officials, but the longtime activists said the “concession” still doesn’t quell the problems the development will bring — resident displacement, traffic congestion, pollution, overpopulated public schools and lack of affordable housing.

The developers, FWRA LLC, promised to dedicate 30 percent of one of the buildings to affordable housing, which equates to about 5 percent of the units in the entire complex, or 90 apartments out of 1,700. City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said the promise, as well as the developer’s agreement to engage in conversations to increase the percentage over the next three years, is not good enough.

“There’s so little affordable housing and an unenforceable promise to do better by the community in the next three years,” he said. He and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) were the only Queens officials to vote no.

MinKwon argued that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure favors wealthy developers over the needs of communities and working-class people and joined the Flushing Against Displacement Alliance for a Dec. 16 rally at City Hall to demand the process be overhauled and reformed. The protestors delivered a “Community Declaration” that calls for “an end to Mayor de Blasio’s racist luxury rezonings, his failed affordable housing policy, and the charade of virtual ULURP meetings.”

City Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Flushing) only had positive things to say about the development and its promise to create job opportunities to the neighborhood — the FWRA estimates that the SFWD will bring over 2,900 permanent jobs, as well as an average of 550 construction jobs per day during its development. The project is also expected to bring about $116 million in property tax revenue for the city.

“This kind of economic development can help New Yorkers get back on their feet,” Koo said.