Flushing residents and advocates showed up in virtual droves Nov. 9 to voice their opposition or support for the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District, a controversial 29-acre rezoning plan.
The eight-hour City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee public hearing included presentations by the developers and testimonies from over 100 public participants. Though not on the subcommittee, Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Flushing) hopped on the call to offer some positive perspective on the project, though he did not reveal how he will vote on the proposal when it moves to the full Council.
“It shares the potential to transform what has been undeveloped and isolated and polluted into a waterfront community with open space, playgrounds and a 40-foot promenade. I believe the proposal has many merits,” Koo said, to the dismay of opponents who had marched through Flushing streets to his district office on Sept. 14 begging him to join their fight.
Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee has been the only authority in the project’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to reject the rezoning after raising concerns over noise, dust, traffic and other construction-related inconveniences as well as potential displacement of current residents. The City Planning Commission had approved the plan Nov. 4 with an 11-2 vote, and Community Board 7 overwhelmingly favored it back in February.
Assemblymember Ron Kim (D-Flushing) also joined in the hearing to reveal he, after months of debate, opposes the Special Flushing Waterfront District because the developers were “commercializing public sovereignty.”
“Private property owners don’t tell the city that they’re better at building public facilities. That in itself should be enough to reject this proposal. It’s insulting and sets a backwards precedent,” he said. “Simply put, they’re branding as a public giveaway but in truth they’re profiting from public value.”
Though multiple community organization representatives hopped on the call to condemn the rezoning, including Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Choe, Director of Housing Justice at Chhaya Community Development Corp. William Spisak and Executive Director at the MinKwon Center for Community Action John Park, various others threw their support behind the plan that promises to revitalize the polluted waterfront.
“We believe these efforts will be even more impactful in helping Flushing recover from COVID by providing jobs, investments and new business opportunities for local people and local businesses,” said Tom Grech, the president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, who specifically pointed to the projected 3,500 permanent jobs that the proposal would create, as well as 600 daily construction jobs.
As part of the project, the developers promised to provide environmental relief to Flushing Creek by upgrading the sewer and drainage systems and providing access to its waterfront, which CB 7 Zoning Committee Chairperson Joe Sweeney said was an asset that validates the proposal.
“We want to clean up this place for the good of the community,” he said.
The City Council has 50 days to make a final decision on the Special Flushing Waterfront District, though a date has yet to be determined.