At tense meeting, CB7 approves waterfront district
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 12, 2020 | 451 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After a tension-filled night marked by protests, confrontations and deliberation, Community Board 7 voted on Monday night to approve the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District, 30-8, with one abstention.

The massive development project, which plans to build 1,725 units of housing, retail, hotels, office space and other amenities on a 29-acre site along the Flushing Creek, now goes to the Queens borough president’s office for an advisory vote.

The proposal, which includes a rezoning on the northern end that includes at least 75 units of affordable housing, will then go to the City Planning Commission and the City Council for approval.

Prior to Monday night’s meeting, CB7’s Land Use Committee voted in favor of the project, 15-1, with 15 conditions, including providing community space preference for senior and youth groups, assigning traffic agents to a busy intersection, rehabilitating and expanding the Main Street subway station, and designing a new school for Downtown Flushing.

Despite overall support from the board, several CB7 members expressed reservations and opposition to the waterfront plan.

John Choe, a CB7 member and executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said many small businesses and local residents are already being displaced by high rents. He said even local students are feeling the emotional impact of displacement.

“They’re going to build this, but we don’t have to bless it,” he said. “We as representatives have to envision a plan that addresses our needs, not the needs of the developers.

“Don’t get railroaded into supporting a proposal that’s not in the interest of our community,” Choe added.

Warren Schreiber, CB7’s second vice chair, said he wanted to add a condition to the project to ensure prevailing wages for jobs. He said it was a “real issue” that the developers were not talking to the unions, including 32BJ SEIU. Schreiber ultimately voted against the project.

Other members, like Phil Konigsberg and Nicholas Corrado, spoke about the burden that adding thousands of new apartments would have on infrastructure and the public transit system.

Chuck Apelian, the board’s first vice chair, served as a consultant on the project, and abstained from voting. But he argued that without this waterfront plan, the area will only get more projects like The Shops at Skyview Center with limited community benefits.

“This is a big project, those who were here back then wanted it,” Apelian said. “This is the opportunity to get what we asked for.”

One CB7 member, Terence Park, said while he thinks the waterfront district is a “better plan” than what can be built as of right, he still noted a lack of hospitals and schools and ongoing traffic problems.

He motioned to table the vote to another night, and called for solidifying input from both sides.

“Bring them together and see what the developers can do for our community,” he said. “Come up again with a better plan.”

The motion to table the rezoning vote, however, failed, 23-16, with one abstention.

The night began with a large protest outside Union Plaza Care Center. Despite the rain, hundreds of people from 32BJ, New York Hotel Trades Council (HTC), and the MinKwon Center for Community Action protested the proposal.

Patricia Guzman, a 25-year Flushing resident and 19-year member of HTC, said at the rally that when “irresponsible developers” come into the neighborhood, they should consider the needs of local residents.

“We have no guarantees,” she said. “They’ve made a lot of promises, but have not made any solid commitments.”

Hyesuk Li, a member of the MinKwon Center, moved to the United States in 1986 and was a single mother raising two kids. Now as a senior citizen, she said it’s “extremely difficult” to pay her rent.

“All of my income is to pay for rent, and it still doesn’t cover it month to month,” she said. “We came to this city to pursue our dreams, yet I’m being pushed out.”

Seonae Byeon, lead housing organizer for MinKwon, called for more affordable housing units, especially for seniors, rather than luxury apartments and condos. She noted that 17 percent of Flushing residents are seniors.

“The so-called affordable housing units that the developers have proposed are not actually affordable to the Flushing community,” Byeon said.

Rebecca Pryor, a program coordinator with Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay, noted that the 29-acre redevelopment is along a severely polluted waterway that has also been historically cut off from residents for decades.

She said she’s opposed to the waterfront rezoning because it will not make the waterway more accessible to residents.

“This is a critical area for New York City and we are doing it a disservice,” Pryor said.

Once the CB7 meeting began, representatives from the development team presented details about each individual site, as well as their plans for a private road network, sewers and pedestrian connections to Downtown Flushing.

Ross Moskowitz, counsel to the ownership group, said this waterfront plan has been worked on for 25 years. Absent this project, he said, none of the community benefits will happen.

“It is really a transformative project, something people said couldn’t be done,” Moskowitz said. “This plan demonstrates a commitment to make this plan well-worth it for this community.”

Like in past meetings, both Moskowitz and Joseph Sweeney, who chairs the committee overseeing the waterfront district plan, painted development on the site as inevitable, given that the developers can build most of their plan as of right.

“No matter what happens tonight, yes or no, this is going to be built,” Sweeney said.

The tension during the four-and-a-half four meeting reached its peak toward the end of the development team’s presentations, when Sweeney asked NYPD officers to escort out protesters who had become restless while waiting hours to speak.

CB7 Chair Eugene Kelty approached the group to ask for quiet. When he saw members of the MinKwon Center filming him with their phones, Kealty objected and rushed toward them.

Protesters then stepped in to prevent Kelty from reaching them, and police officers had to intervene before the board chair walked away. Community members then erupted chants of “shame on you” and “let us speak.”

Minutes later, Sweeney also walked over to the area where community members were waiting. He also got in the face of MinKwon Center community organizer Charlie Cheon, and pointed his finger at Cheon before cops stepped in.

Kelty later apologized for losing his temper.

Cheon, who spoke during the public comment portion, noted that all night Sweeney had been urging respect from all participants. But the waterfront plan, Cheon said is disrespectful to the Flushing community.

The MinKwon organizer also addressed the dire need in the neighborhood for affordable senior housing. He said he fields questions everyday from seniors who have been waiting decades for senior housing units to open up.

“We need a community board that represents us, not developers,” Cheon said.
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