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Queens Chronicle

Commercial uses invade industry zones

Local politicians and advocates fight to protect threatened IBZs

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:11 am, Thu Apr 4, 2013.

In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg announced that specific areas of city land would be preserved for industrial purposes solely and called Industrial Business Zones. To go along with the IBZ, the mayor also created the Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses to support the city’s ailing industrial sector.

But eight years later, the OIMB has been dismantled and slowly, more and more of the IBZs are losing manufacturing businesses, which are being replaced by residential buildings and superstores.

“Creating these zones was the correct strategy for the city,” Adam Friedman of the Pratt Center for Community Development said. “The mayor recognized that manufacturers needed stability and said they would discourage nonindustrial uses and even created an office and conducted studies on the infrastructure of the industrial areas to better implement discouraging of nonindustrial uses. Those groups have gone steadily down and now have been eliminated.”

Since Bloomberg took office, the city has lost 1,800 acres of M-zoned industrial land.

In 2009, the New York Industrial Retention Network, which has since been consolidated to the Pratt Center, studied commercial uses invading IBZs. The 10-page document lays out every commercial superstore or chain hotel to move into each of the eight zones over several years.

Using files from the Department of Buildings, NYIRN determined that from January 2005 to August 2007, there were 587 cases in IBZ and Ombudsman zones (areas adjacent to IBZs that receive services but do not guarantee against residential development) where the plot changed to nonindustrial use.

The most recent nonmanufacturing organization to move into the Maspeth IBZ is the Knockdown Center on Flushing Avenue. The glass factory-turned-art gallery has hosted several events this year.

The art gallery is technically within its rights to reside in the area. Anyone is allowed in most cases without any special permission to build a hotel, a big box store, an office building and even an art gallery in an IBZ.

The Pratt Center, an organization affliated with the Pratt Institute that works to advance a sustainable city economy has accused city offices, including the Bloomberg administration, of only committing to manufacturers as a public statement.

Amanda Burden, the City Planning commissioner, has also been criticized for not standing up for manufacturers despite declaring the IBZs to be an “iron-clad” commitment to industrial businesses.

Technically, there are no legalities that would prevent the next mayoral administration from turning existing IBZs into residential and commercial developments.

Those uncertainties have left IBZ advocates uneasy.

“I don’t believe the city is doing everything the can to protect these companies,” Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Maspeth) said. “In my tenure as a council member, I’ve always had a specific interest in the industrial sector which dates back to the fact that my mother was a seamstress when the textile industry was predominately immigrants. She eventually had to change careers because of the shrinking industry buildings.”

Reyna and others cite real estate prices as one of the key reasons that more and more buildings are becoming residential. Building owners have found that commercial and residential companies are more likely to pay higher prices than manufacturers. So when leases come up, the owners hike up rents so high that industrial companies cannot afford to remain in the area.

This year, the IBZ fund that grants industrial businesses tax incentives for remaining in the zones has been zeroed out.

In a letter sent to the mayor earlier this month, Friedman said zeroing out IBZ funding could be detrimental.

“Unless funding for the local development organizations is restored and the city moves forward with new IBZ zoning, the resources invested by the city will be wasted and the confidence of the business owners who believed in the city’s commitment and made investment decisions based on that commitment will be betrayed,” the letter read.

Despite repeated requests, both the Mayor’s Office and City Planning did not respond.

“Contrary to what people may think, these businesses are job generators, not storage facilities,” Gayle Baron, the executive director of the Long Island City Business Improvement District, said. “These new residential buildings are not creating jobs. There is so much competition for space in these areas and with this explosive growth in residential and commercial buildings, you can end up losing sections that have viable businesses.

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