Ross Moskowitz, counsel to the owners of the 29-acre site, presented more details about their master plan to build a new mixed-use neighborhood along the Flushing Creek, including more than 1,700 units of housing, retail, hotels, office space and other amenities.
Moskowitz argued that the project will “deliver many good benefits” for the local community.
“This is not just a rezoning,” he said. “This is an opportunity to create a holistic look at a road network, open space, housing and waterfront.”
The attorney framed the project as a choice between the developers’ proposal and what could be built as of right, which would not require any public process. A rezoning, by contrast, needs to go through the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and requires approval by the City Council.
“This could be built today with the exact same zoning in place,” he said.
If the developers choose to build out the waterfront as of right, Moskowitz said, there would be no affordable housing in the project. The only housing subject to the rezoning is the northernmost lot, which is currently zoned for heavy manufacturing.
Under the developers’ master plan, that lot will not only have affordable housing units, but will also convert to light manufacturing, which Moskowitz said is “much less obnoxious” to the community than heavy industry.
If rezoned, that site would have 300 total units. The developer can choose to have either 75 units of affordable housing at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or 90 units of affordable housing at 80 percent of the AMI. Councilman Peter Koo is currently in talks with the developers.
The developers’ proposal would increase the shore public walkway from 39,600 square feet to nearly 76,000 square feet. It would more than double the amount of open space in the district from three to about seven acres.
The road network, which would connect with Downtown Flushing, would be privately funded and created. Altogether, the development team is investing more than $1 billion into the project, Moskowitz said.
In terms of the economic benefits of the plan, the waterfront district would generate $28 million of tax revenue annually. It would create nearly 3,000 permanent jobs, and an average of 558 construction jobs per day.
Moskowitz also answered previous questions raised about the proposal, including concerns about tax incentives and displacement. He said the district does not qualify for the federal Opportunity Zone program, which provides tax breaks for private developers who invest in “economically-distressed” communities.
The project does qualify for the 421-a property tax abatement, but only in the northernmost lot, Moskowitz said. The abatement is only applied if they follow through on building affordable housing.
Addressing questions about jobs and the environment, Moskowitz said the team plans to sit down with both 32BJ, the service employees’ union, and Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy organization.
When asked about potential displacement caused by the project, the attorney noted that other than a U-Haul facility there, the sites are all vacant.
“The incremental increase from this project should not have an impact on local businesses,” he said.
Moskowitz further defended the “local developers,” arguing that they are long-established owners and operators who won’t just build and leave the community.
“They have been here as long as many of the people in this room,” he said. “They haven’t just shown up.
“They’ve earned their right,” Moskowitz added. “They’ve invested in this community.”
Joe Sweeney, who chairs the committee overseeing the Special Flushing Waterfront District process for Community Board 7, also framed the conversation as an “either-or” between the developers’ plan and as-of-right development.
“No matter what the community board does or the City Council does,” he said, “if it’s turned down, something’s going to be built there anyway.
“You have to say to yourself, ‘is this going to be good for the community, or is the as of right good for the community?’” Sweeney added. “You’re going to have to make that decision.”
Despite being billed as a public hearing, the meeting did not allow the public to ask questions until the end of the three-hour event. Dozens of protesters from community groups, including the MinKwon Center for Community Action, silently held up poster boards to denounce the rezoning.
Halfway through the hours-long presentations, they began tapping their boards and walked out of the meeting in protest.
In a statement, John Park, executive director of the MinKwon Center, said the organization opposes the redevelopment project because it will bring “significant burden” on Flushing residents who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Our community members are at risk of displacement and further marginalization from this project,” he said, “for it will worsen the issues of congestion, pollution, construction hazards, rent increases, unjust evictions, homelessness and gentrification already present in our communities.”
Park noted that when the Flushing West rezoning was proposed in 2015, MinKwon created the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance, which conducted a year of research and grassroots outreach on alternative visions. Their April 2016 report contained specific recommendations for a “just rezoning,” he said.
Tarry Hum, an urban planner and professor of urban studies, said in a statement that the waterfront district would transform the area by bringing towers and luxury hotels, while providing a “miniscule” amount of affordable housing.
She noted that Koo opposed the Flushing West rezoning because it was a “classic example of stuffing 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag.”
“The Special Flushing Waterfront District is comparable to 100 pounds of potatoes,” Hum said, “and will not only add enormous strain on existing infrastructure, but supercharge the gentrification of Flushing.”
The final public hearing on the massive development plan will take place on Monday, February 10, at the Union Plaza Care Center. The public will be allowed to testify at that meeting, Sweeney said.