Opponents of waterfront plan share concerns with project
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 26, 2020 | 622 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The contentious debate over the Special Flushing Waterfront District moved to Borough Hall, as opponents of the plan continued to spar with project supporters.

Last Thursday, Acting Borough President Sharon Lee hosted a well-attended public hearing on the massive developments along the 29-acre waterfront site. The borough president has an advisory role in the public land use review process.

Prior to the hearing, critics of the waterfront plan gathered on the steps of Borough Hall to denounce the project. Assemblyman Ron Kim portrayed the developments as part of a “constant fight between the haves and have-nots” in Flushing.

“They don’t live in Flushing, they drive their luxury cars from Long Island,” Kim said about the developers. “All they care about is extracting profits from our community.’

The have-nots, Kim said, do not want “empty luxury condos.” Instead, they want investments in schools, libraries and community development, he said.

The Flushing lawmaker also called the process “corrupted from the beginning.” One Community Board 7 member, First Vice Chair Chuck Apelian, served as a consultant to the development team.

Apelian abstained from voting in the board’s 30-8 vote in favor of the district, though he did participate in the discussion, urging fellow members to support the proposal.

Kim also blasted the process for not giving “ample opportunities” for the public to provide meaningful input and for not requiring an environmental impact study (EIS).

“We’re going to organize, strategize and make sure we push back and get the answers we deserve,” he said.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, a candidate for Queens borough president, called on Lee to “hear the calls of the community” over developers.

Among his “very deep concerns” was that last year alone, five billion gallons of sewage were released into Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay. Adding 1,725 units of housing to the waterfront area would worsen the environmental impacts to the waterbody.

Constantinides said the development team’s insistence that they could build most of the project as of right without city approval amounts to “legalized extortion.”

“This developer is saying to this community, ‘we are going to do what we want no matter what you say,’” he said.

Inside Borough Hall, Ross Moskowitz, counsel to the ownership group, presented the details of the Special Flushing Waterfront District. He said that the developers are “ready now” to clean up the contaminated area, expand the waterfront, establish a street network and provide pedestrian connections to Downtown Flushing.

All of the project amenities have been “asked for” by the community since 1994, he said.

“Absent this project, none of this is going to happen,” Moskowitz said, “and it hasn’t happened over the last 20 years.

“Each owner has spent a considerable amount of time and dollars and are ready to put shovels in the ground once the new district is approved,” he added. “The sooner they can begin, the sooner the substantial amount of benefits can occur.”

CB7’s approval of the project came with 15 different conditions, five of which Moskowitz said the development team has committed to. Those conditions include exploring educational opportunities for Flushing Creek, ensuring that residents of CB7 are alloted 50 percent of the affordable housing units and using shoreline restoration techniques.

Five other conditions are “driven by the government,” Moskowitz said, including assigning traffic agents to Roosevelt Avenue and College Point Boulevard permanently, rehabilitating the Main Street station entrance on Prince Street, and designing a new school for the area.

The last five conditions, which include providing community space for seniors and youths, using solar energy for outdoor infrastructure and installing public restrooms along the promenade, are all still under consideration.

Addressing concerns about the lack of union jobs, Moskowitz, who said the project will be “open shop,” said the team has reached out to meet with 32BJ and the Hotel Trades Council.

“We’re not ignoring anyone,” he said. “We’re willing to talk to anyone rationally.”

Lee questioned Moskowitz and the development team on various aspects of the project, including the cost of the privately funded road network, impact on adjacent streets, and how much open space would be delivered.

She asked what would happen to the benefits of the site should the City Council not approve the waterfront district.

Moskowitz responded that one of the sites already had a building permit and was ready to begin construction, but paused to get approval for the waterfront district. Another site already spent money preparing for an environmental cleanup.

He said the cleanup and stormwater treatment would still happen as of right, “but not to the same degree.”

“This is a legacy project for the owners,” Moskowitz said. “They want to deliver benefits to the community.”

Dozens of community members testified at the public hearing, both for and against the project. John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and a CB7 member, called for an “immediate halt” to the land use review process until a proper EIS is conducted.

He also criticized the “conflicts of interest” associated with having a community board member paid by the developers and “lobbying on their behalf.”

“That’s besmirching the integrity of the community board and our process reviewing land use decisions,” Choe said.

The chamber leader noted that three years ago, CB7 voted against the Flushing West rezoning, which would have provided more than 500 affordable housing units, billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, public access to the waterfront, schools, youth centers and commercial space for small businesses.

Many of those benefits are not included in this waterfront district proposal, he said.

“Sometimes you have to take what a developer says with a grain of salt,” Choe said. “There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here where things are being promised.”

In a statement, FWRA LLC, a consortium of the three developers that own the 29-acre site, said it is committed to the public benefits attached to the waterfront plan.

“Our thoughtful master plan, achieved with minimal increase in bulk, creates an integrated development strategy that knits together Downtown Flushing and the Flushing Creek waterfront,” the developers said. “We’re grateful for the support thus far and look forward to continuing to share the benefits of developing this integral, underutilized piece of land.”
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