Nov. 5, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The New York City Planning Commission voted in support of a contentious Flushing waterfront development project Wednesday.
The City Planning Commission voted 11-to-two in favor of a zoning change that would make way for a 13-tower, mixed-use development that includes office space, hotel buildings and 1,725 apartments.
The land use application was filed in December 2019 by a consortium of real estate firms called FWRA that seek to rezone a 29-acre area of land on the Flushing Creek in order for them to construct their ambitious project.
The developers hope to establish a “Special Flushing Waterfront District,” which is bound by 36th Avenue to the north, College Point Boulevard to the east and Roosevelt Avenue to the south.
The proposal was praised by City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago who noted that it would bring jobs and prompt economic activity. However, other commissioners expressed concern about gentrification and how it might price out existing residents.
“This proposal will assist the city as it recovers and emerges stronger from the pandemic by allowing downtown Flushing to embrace its waterfront and make this natural resource publicly available…,” Lago said at the meeting. “This application is an important step forward for Flushing.”
The waterfront district application, however, did not garner unanimous support. The two commissioners who voted no argued that it would spur gentrification in Flushing and displace current residents.
Commissioner Michelle de la Uz voiced her dissent over what she called the “laughable” number of affordable housing units included in the plan.
The plan calls for the creation of 75 to 90 affordable units out of the 1,725 apartments. While the number meets the city’s rezoning requirements, de la Uz said it wasn’t enough to meet the community’s needs.
“The proposal falls far short of committing to meet the affordable housing and public school seat needs for the area — 75 to 90 MIH [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing] units is laughable considering the size of this project,” de la Uz said.
Commissioner Orlando Marín said he concurred with de la Uz’s misgivings and also voted no.
Meanwhile, Commissioners Anna Hayes Levin and Raj Rampershad voted in favor of the project, but said they hoped to see the plans modified to include more affordable housing units as the land use application heads to the City Council next.
The City Council now has 50 days to hold a hearing and vote on the land use application. The Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will host a public hearing on the application on Monday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m.
The redevelopment proposal has received heavy criticism from some local community-based groups and residents.
Several civic groups, including MinKwon Center for Community Action, the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Chhaya CDC oppose the rezoning project. The groups say an influx of luxury buildings would intensify gentrification and lead to the displacement of many Flushing residents.
The MinKwon Center panned the City Planning Commission in a tweet, arguing that it doesn’t listen to the community.
CB7? Doesn’t listen to the community. @nycplanning? Doesn’t listen. @SFWDistrict? Never even tried. Will @cmpeterkoo @nyccouncil follow suit and ignore our voices? Not if we raise them louder.
Their next virtual hearing is MON., 11/9, 10 AM. Sign up: https://t.co/H4BtgeATzX
— 민권센터 #NoRezoning #CancelRent (@MinKwonCenter) November 4, 2020
The Flushing waterfront proposal was approved by Community Board 7 earlier this year, much to the dismay of many of these groups who expressed concerns at the time about gentrification.
However, the redevelopment plan was later rejected by Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee.
Lee, in her advisory role, said the project would displace long-time residents — many of whom are elderly and live on fixed incomes.
Meanwhile, Council Member Peter Koo, whose district includes the Flushing waterfront, has yet to make any public statements on the redevelopment proposal.
The project developers praised the City Planning Commission for its support of their proposal.
“As the owners behind the project, who have worked tirelessly for years to see this project come to fruition, this vote marks another step in the right direction,” FWRA said in a statement. “City Planning rightly sees that the SWFD is not a rezoning, but an essential next step for Queens at large towards recovery.”
The FWRA consortium — composed of F&T Group, United Construction and Development Group Inc. and Young Nian Group — said the Special Flushing Waterfront District will create nearly 3,000 permanent jobs and $164 million in project annual tax revenue.
“Without question, the months since COVID-19 have been among the most trying times our city has ever seen,” FWRA said. “There is no better time to give Flushing and New York City this exciting new chapter.”