Nov. 18, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Opposition to a sprawling 13-tower, mixed-use development proposed for the Flushing waterfront is growing among city lawmakers tasked with approving the plans.
A dozen city council members said approving the project known as the “Special Flushing Waterfront District” in its current form would be “a grave mistake,” in a joint statement released Tuesday evening.
The members said the proposal — which calls for 1,725 apartments, multiple hotels, office and retail space as well as a brand new road network on 29-acres of private waterfront property — “ignores the real, urgent needs of the Flushing community.”
“We believe it would be irresponsible to approve the application without deep community benefits like real affordable housing and commitments to provide good jobs for local community members,” they wrote.
The statement was released by Council Member Francisco Moya, Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises — which hosted a public hearing on the project last week.
— Francisco Moya (@FranciscoMoyaNY) November 17, 2020
It was signed by 11 other council members including Keith Powers, Diana Ayala, Ritchie Torres, Ben Kallos, Helen Rosenthal, Brad Lander, Jimmy Van Bramer, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Justin Brannan and Carlina Rivera.
The statement was not signed by Council Member Peter Koo, whose district covers the area where the development is proposed.
The 12 council members argue that the project doesn’t consider the current needs of the community. They say that the ongoing economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues to put a strain Flushing residents, noting that many are unemployed or face housing instability.
They argue that the number of affordable housing units that come with the project is inadequate and that there needs to be a commitment that quality jobs go to Flushing residents.
The development — proposed by a consortium of three developers known as FWRA — would include 75 to 90 affordable housing units out of more than 1,725 units.
“This year has forced us to examine the needs of our working class communities in a deeper and more holistic way,” the members said. “Approving this rezoning as it currently stands would be a grave mistake.”
The vote will take place before the end of the year.
The small number of affordable units meets city requirements since FWRA only plans to upzone just one of the four sites that make up the 29-acre district.
The council members, however, don’t think 75 to 90 affordable units are enough despite FWRA meeting city code.
The developers, however, argue that if their plans are rejected there would be no affordable housing units at all–and many other benefits that could come to Flushing would be lost.
“Without approval of the District, there will be zero affordable housing if the owners choose to develop “as-of-right” according to in-place zoning,” a spokesperson for FWRA said in a statement. “It is antithetical of the Council Members to support affordable units and simultaneously fight against the very zoning enhancement that would allow affordable housing to be brought to the area.”
FWRA said the development would bring many assets to Flushing — such as a privately-funded public road network, a public waterfront promenade and 3,000-plus jobs — which the council members are neglecting to acknowledge.
“The statement released by NYC Council Member Francisco Moya, among others, ignores the many immediate benefits the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD) will bring to Flushing,” the FWRA spokesperson said.
The council members’ joint statement was released Tuesday, just hours after a protest rally was held by local groups in Flushing.
The groups — including members of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance, Flushing Workers Center, Guardians of Flushing Bay, Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Chhaya Community Development Corporation — called on Flushing Council Member Koo to vote against the development application.
Rally-goers said the influx of luxury apartments would cause housing costs to increase in the area, which would lead to the displacement of existing Flushing residents. They chanted “Peter Koo, shame on you” and held signs demanding the City Council to vote down the application.
Koo has expressed support of the Special Flushing Waterfront District, but he has not said whether he would vote in favor of the application in its current form. He has said that the development would bring many benefits to the neighborhood and open the Flushing waterfront to the public.
Koo’s viewpoint is perhaps the most influential since the council typically votes in lockstep with the council member whose district includes the project, in a practice known as member deference.
However, several council members could break that tradition should they voting no, given Koo’s apparent support.
Brooklyn Council Member Menchaca said he would vote no at the rally Tuesday and Van Bramer said via Twitter last week that he’d vote against it.
Menchaca led the opposition to the Industry City rezoning application in his own district, Sunset Park, which caused the developers to pull the plug on those plans in September.
At Tuesday’s rally, he said the Flushing rezoning would fail just like the Industry City rezoning did due to community backlash.
“This rezoning will come crashing down in flames…,” Menchaca said at the rally. “We’ll bring it down in flames.”
However, there was also a rally in support of the project yesterday. Some residents at the pro-development rally held signs stating they needed jobs and that they welcomed the public waterfront the developers are promising.
FWRA said the Special Flushing Waterfront District will help Flushing recover from the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic. It reiterated that the project would bring 3,000 permanent jobs, in addition to construction jobs.
The project, if approved, could be completed as soon as 2025, the developers said.
“Currently, there is no other project in Queens that would be able to provide economic stimulus so swiftly,” according to a FWRA spokesperson. “We are dedicated, as we always have been, to providing good paying jobs for the people of Flushing, Greater Queens and New York City.”
The developers called on the City Council to stand with Koo.
“We urge the Council Members to make the right and sensible choice and stand with local Council Member Peter Koo,” the spokesperson said. “Supporting the SFWD is supporting Flushing and our collective future, they are one and the same.”