January 22, 2020

Local Community Residents and Community Organizations Oppose Flushing Rezoning Before Community Board 7

Flushing, NY — On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Community Board 7 was originally scheduled to have its official committee hearing on the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process on the redevelopment of the Special Flushing Waterfront District. Community Board 7 began the ULURP process on December 19, 2019 to rezone downtown Flushing and approve construction of approximately 1,700 luxury apartments and hotel on the Flushing waterfront.

The Board began the ULURP process with little to no prior community notice or feedback and no proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Local Flushing residents have deep concerns of how a massive development of luxury units would impact the ongoing displacement of longtime residents and small businesses due to skyrocketing market rates, congestion, pollution, construction hazards, lack of sewage infrastructure, and local schools that are already overcrowded.

To counterbalance the failure of transparency and community outreach for a development that would transform downtown Flushing, the MinKwon Center for Community Action began informing Flushing community members about the current development plans, with many who planned to speak at the Board’s scheduled public hearing. Based in downtown Flushing, MinKwon supports Flushing residents, community-based organizations, and housing advocates opposing the current ULURP process led by Community Board 7, citing the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts on low-income, immigrant, limited English proficient, and elderly residents. MinKwon is especially concerned with the lack of accountability and transparency with the Board and demand the Board rescind their current process and consider alternative rezoning plans for more affordable housing and community centers.

John Park, Executive Director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, said: "We are not opposed to the redevelopment of the Flushing waterfront. Any massive redevelopment plans must benefit existing local residents and small businesses, the people who built and shaped the community as it is today, so they can stay and thrive. The current redevelopment plan is not that plan. A very concerning part of the current process is the lack of public visibility, transparency, and lack of interest for local resident input for what will have a transformative impact on Flushing.”

“We know this is the wrong plan, because when Flushing rezoning was considered in 2015, MinKwon formed the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance and helped produce a whitepaper with a year of research including 334 Flushing residents who participated in a survey. The recommendations provided in that whitepaper, which was based on local community feedback, were ignored.

“What we are seeing is large speculative developers with a very problematic level of influence on a local community board, and together showing little interest and even contempt for directly impacted local Flushing residents. At least two members of Community Board 7, including Vice Chairperson Chuck Apelian and Dr. James Cervino, are consultants for the same developers planning to develop the waterfront. One local Flushing resident asked Ross Moskowitz, a strategic advisor for large real estate developers and the person facilitating the Community Board meeting on January 21, if he would meet local Flushing residents, which was immediately after he promised two other groups he would meet with them, Moskowitz flatly responded no.”

Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center, said: “I have been fighting against mass displacement in Flushing, where many residents are low-income Limited English Proficient immigrants. We are mainly dealing with predatory landlords, including large developers affiliated with global capital, targeting the low-income and immigrant population. In Flushing, for instance, there are buildings where landlords have been fraudulently charging their rent-stabilized tenants at market rate for at least 30 years, most of them being Korean American immigrants. We also have predatory landlords like Zara, A&E, and Pinnacle.

“Immediately after NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the rezoning of Flushing West in 2014, more predatory landlords have bought up many of the rent stabilized units in Flushing. The massive rezoning of the Flushing waterfront will exponentially speed up the process of gentrification and displacement.”

Tarry Hum, urban planner, Professor and Chair of Urban Studies Department at Queens College (affiliation for ID purposes only), said: “The Special Flushing Waterfront District will transform the 29-acre waterfront by adding nine buildings with a total of thirteen towers — all except two towers exceed the FAA height restrictions. These towers add 3 million square feet in luxury hotels, 1,725 residential condos, and retail; and are connected by privately-owned streets.

“The community benefits are a miniscule 61 units of affordable housing at 80% AMI equal to $85,360 for a family of four, and 3 acres of open space that amounts to a tiny 0.1% of the development site. City Councilman Koo stopped the Flushing West plan because the rezoning ‘would be a classic example of stuffing 10 pounds of potatoes into a five pound bag.’ The Special Flushing Waterfront District is comparable to 100 pounds of potatoes and will not only add enormous strain on existing infrastructure but supercharge the gentrification of Flushing.​”

Miriam Bensmen, concerned community member, said: “Last week Community Board 7 heard testimony from an elderly woman who was being violently harassed by her landlord to get her out. What did they expect? For 40 years, I’ve heard stories like that, in neighborhoods undergoing rapid gentrification. Rezoning the Flushing waterfront will speed up gentrification and displacement in one of the few affordable neighborhoods left. We don’t need more luxury co-ops and hotels. We need more affordable housing and heavy penalties for abusive landlords.”

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