November 17, 2020

Residents and Community-Based Organizations Demand New York City Council Member Peter Koo Oppose the Special Flushing Waterfront District on Behalf of the Community

A coalition of organizations and residents representing the Flushing community held a press conference to demand that New York City Council Member Peter Koo oppose the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD) application as a member of the Land Use Committee and before a Council-wide vote expected in December. The groups organizing the press conference are Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance, Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning and five of its member organizations: MinKwon Center for Community Action, Flushing Workers Center, Guardians of Flushing Bay, the Greater  Flushing Chamber of Commerce, and Chhaya Community Development Corporation. 


The press conference was held in response to Council Member Peter Koo’s strong support for the SFWD during a City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee public hearing on November 9th. Outraged by his indifference towards the community, residents and leaders addressed reporters to express their deep frustration throughout the ULURP process and urged Koo to listen to and serve his constituents before leaving office. The event also dispelled several myths spread by developers and explained why the rezoning will cause more displacement, congestion, and environmental degradation.


Assemblymember Ron Kim said, "As the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning proceeds to vote on whether the Special Flushing Waterfront District rezoning proposal advances, I implore every member who sits on the subcommittee: have the moral courage to vote no on this disastrous giveaway to private developers, and stand with the workers and tenants of Flushing in opposing those who would gentrify our neighborhood and displace our neighbors for profiteering gain. And once we do, let us work to build economic resiliency in our community, and ensure that in all times -- pandemic crisis or not -- none of our community members have to go hungry and wait hours on a line for free food, or undergo the traumatizing stress of the threat of eviction, or fear not having guaranteed and quality healthcare. May we unequivocally reject this development, and move on as a community to continue fighting for the most vulnerable families and individuals in Flushing."


Seonae Byeon, Lead Housing Organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Organizing, said: “The Special Flushing Waterfront District is a developer-driven rezoning, not community-driven. This rezoning plan is destructive. Downtown Flushing communities have been bearing the burden of this environmental racism and are suffering from displacement due to this predatory development. We should not have to suffer at the whims of greedy developers.


"Unlike the developers' claims, there will be absolutely no mitigation of the housing crisis in Flushing through this development. This development will only serve to increase rents in the immediate surrounding areas due to land value speculation…While residents continue to grieve and suffer through the pandemic, the city finds it appropriate to force this luxury development upon the community and to resume the approval process. 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.”


“Our members and all working people in Flushing are facing a crisis," said Sarah Ahn of Flushing Workers Center. "We are facing massive job loss and families are on the brink of eviction. This is not only because of the Covid pandemic but because for the last 10 years, Councilmember Koo did nothing to check the developers from building luxury apartments after another in our community. Now, Flushing is more unlivable, our streets are crowded and dangerous, our schools are over capacity at 130%, our supermarkets and other amenities are disappearing and most of all, our rents and taxes are too high for most residents and small businesses to handle. Let’s tell Councilmember Koo to stand up to the developers and say no to the SFWD plan and fight in City Hall for rent and tax relief so we can survive and for a plan that protects us from more development that causes displacement.”


William Spisak, Director of Housing Justice at Chhaya CDC, said: "The Flushing rezoning and special district completely fails to address the needs of the community for affordable housing, less crowded schools and transportation, open public green space, and affordable commercial space for our struggling small businesses. Chhaya CDC calls on all members of the city council to vote no on this rezoning and allow for a community-driven planning process to take place."


Rebecca Pryor, Program Coordinator at Guardians of Flushing Bay, said: "We believe that Flushing residents deserve a plan for the Flushing Creek waterfront that is community generated, climate resilient and environmentally just. Plain and simple, we do not believe that the SFWD meets those criteria. In addition to adding more sewage to an already sewage soaked Creek and not meeting basic NYC open space requirements, the only affordable housing proposed in the Special District is located in the most climate vulnerable part of the floodplain. We ask that Council Member Peter Koo, as City Council Park Committee Chair and a consistent voice for a clean and healthy Flushing Creek, ensure that the clean up of the Creek does not come at the cost of the residents who have had to endure its pollution for decades."


"When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away this year, many Americans were rightly concerned when our lame duck President rushed through the decision to replace her right before an election. The people of Flushing are similarly concerned another lame duck elected official is rushing to make a decision with enormous implications for our community and abuse the tradition of 'member deference' to manipulate his colleagues in the City Council to approve a proposed luxury development without the required comprehensive environmental review process," stated John Choe, Executive Director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. "We urge the City Council to talk directly with the small business owners and local residents most affected by this project and not listen to a term-limited lame duck who demands 'member deference' without showing a similar deference to our community.  If the developers cannot answer your questions, send this defective proposal back to the drawing board and don't give it our City's stamp of approval."


Sam Song, a Flushing resident and worker, said: “I am a nail salon worker and have lived in Flushing for many years. In a short time, our rents have gone up hundreds of dollars and more and more we cannot afford to live here. This is the consequence of the government allowing luxury apartments to flood our community, driving up property taxes and rents. Councilmember Peter Koo, stop helping developers destroy Flushing. We demand you correct your mistakes immediately and stand against the Flushing Waterfront rezoning.”


“How could one expect luxury developments to benefit a community where 60% of residents are rent burdened?" expressed Audrey Chou, Flushing resident and student at Townsend Harris. "How will commercial properties serve a town where countless are waiting for food each week, businesses are shutting down, and families are facing eviction? My parents and neighbors are struggling to pay rent this month, will these developments do anything about that? Councilmember Koo, you claim that you support this proposal for the good of our neighborhood but how could that be true when you’ve been in constant contact with the developers and haven’t spoken to community members once throughout the ULURP process? Councilmember Koo,  I implore you to listen to our voices and recognize that the Flushing Waterfront needs community-focused developments by and for the people of Flushing. What Flushing doesn’t need is luxury developments to “become a beacon for Queens at large.”


Zeke Luger, student at Queens College, said: “We’ve had enough of this, developers can’t keep having their way with this neighborhood! Not only do they want to flood Flushing’s streets with their 1,500 new parking spots worth of traffic, but they’re obstructing any measures to reduce the traffic or it’s impacts. They’ve delayed the Main Street Busway yet again with their lawsuit, and as we’ve now seen, the delay has already cost Flushing a bakery now wrecked, and 2 pedestrians & 2 motorists now injured. To survive the pandemic, Flushing needs a livable and affordable neighborhood, not more luxury condos and rising rents!”


Hailing Chen, candidate for City Council District 20 [for ID purposes only], said: “I stand with the community and labor organizations in opposing Special Flushing Waterfront Rezoning because it fails to provide real affordable housing in our community. In the meantime, it can cause a substantial rise in property tax, business, and household rent. We need to protect our small businesses and workers.”


Tiffany Cabán, candidate for District 22 City Council [for ID purposes only], stated: “I am standing with community members and labor in calling for a NO vote on the Flushing rezoning. This corporate redevelopment project would displace working class immigrant families in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic and economic crisis, destroying lives, and the fabric of the Flushing community. We have to fight now for our working families before it’s too late. This project does nothing for our communities, and it must be stopped.”


Western Queens Community Land Trust expressed in a statement: "There is nothing special about the Special Flushing Waterfront District. It is yet another example of an exploitive development that burdens our communities while it extracts wealth to benefit developers and investors. We call on Flushing council member Peter Koo and the entire city council to vote no on this inequitable luxury rezoning."

Municipal Arts Society expressed in a statement: "These long-neglected Flushing waterfront sites offer a rare opportunity for a well-planned, integrated development, one that might indeed prove mutually beneficial for the developers and the community. Unfortunately, the current proposal does not achieve these goals."

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