After two weeks of deliberation following a Feb. 20 land use hearing, Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee released her recommendation, to disapprove, with a few conditions, the controversial Special Flushing Waterfront District on March 12.
“The scale and scope of the plan will significantly change the landscape of Downtown Flushing with long lasting impacts on the area within and surrounding the SFWD,” Lee’s negative recommendation read. “Downtown Flushing, however, is not immune to the consequences of transformative large-scale new development that inadvertently leaves many behind, such as narrowing their options for decent housing and leaving them with hard and economic life choices.”
Lee also expressed concern for those who live in close proximity to the development site who will “bear the brunt of the noise, dust, traffic and other construction-related inconveniences as the proposed project is built, with little chance to afford or secure some of the new housing that would be built in the new modern waterfront development.”
The conditions outlined by Lee included a commitment to paying SFWD workers the prevailing wage and supplements and a good faith effort to employ union labor for the construction of the site and the permanent jobs servicing the completed residential buildings, as well as a commitment for additional affordable housing, including for seniors. Lee also requested that the School Construction Authority locate a site in Downtown Flushing to build a significant portion of its goal to add 3,056 new school seats between 2020 and 2024.
As part of the Flushing Waterfront Revitalization Plan, the proposal to rezone and redevelop the 29-acre stretch of waterfront industrial property and surrounding land in Downtown Flushing seeks to extend the district to the waterfront, improve pedestrian flow and vehicular movement, add affordable housing and improve the water quality of Flushing Creek. The project would lie between 40th Road to the south, College Point Boulevard to the east, 36th Avenue to the north and Flushing Creek to the west.
The applicant, FWRA, LLC, presented the proposal to the Borough President’s Office after it was met with a 30-8 approval advisory vote by Community Board 7 on Feb. 10. According to Lee’s recommendation, 28 speakers participated in the Feb. 20 hearing, nine of whom were in favor of the plan and 19 against.
“We are stunned by the unusual manner in which the interim Borough President would go against the wishes of the community,” FWRA LLC said in a prepared statement responding to Lee’s recommendation. “This project will create jobs, stimulate the Flushing economy which is suffering and bring activity and much-needed environmental cleanup to a vacant, blighted parcel of land. These factors are why there is a broad range of community support from local businesses and residents, but were unfortunately overlooked by someone who is not familiar with our community.”
The MinKwon Center for Community Action has been a strong opponent of the development and has protested at multiple hearings since the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure began in December. Representatives of the advocacy group met with Lee on March 10 to express their concerns over increased congestion, pollution, construction hazards and mass displacement resulting from the development.
“I am very thankful that the borough president, Sharon Lee, really took to heart our community’s needs,” MinKwon’s Lead Housing Organizer Seonae Byeon told the Chronicle.
Byeon reiterated Lee’s concern that Downton Flushing, as well as Bland Houses residents will bear “the costs of this redevelopment, in the form of industrial pollution, construction noise, traffic and congestion, and displacement from their homes.”
She also said an environmental impact study by an impartial third party is critical to truly understanding the environmental consequences of the development, and accused real estate developers and CB 7 of trying to fast-track the approval process with the hopes that no one would notice the true scale of the environmental impact.
“Due to gentrification and the rising cost of rent, senior residents in Flushing are being forced to make decisions like whether to purchase food or pay for rent. Students at JHS 189Q openly speak about depression and their harboring of suicidal thoughts due to the effect of their families being displaced. Schools in this district are also already overcrowded, hovering at around 120% capacity.
“Developers simply do not care about the effects of gentrification and the rapid urbanization of the neighborhood. Their only concern is to extract the maximum profit per square foot of land they are able to get their hands on,” said Byeon
Following Lee’s recommendation to disapprove, the application will be presented to the City Planning Commission, something originally scheduled for March 18 but tentatively pushed to April 1 due to the state of concerns surrounding the coronavirus — on March 16, Mayor de Blasio issued an executive order to suspend all ULURP processes until further notice, which restricts community boards, borough presidents, borough boards, the CPC and the City Council from convening to consider land use applications or hold public hearings on applications.