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Queens Chronicle

Developers’ plan meets skepticism

Concern over use of public land and shoreline resiliency at CB 2

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu Jan 16, 2020.

Just whose LIC is it, anyway?

A presentation by members of the Your LIC development team dominated last Thursday night’s meeting of Community Board 2, as those supporting a counter-organization, Our LIC, along with board members and area residents, expressed concern over plans to redevelop 28 acres along the Long Island City waterfront.

The presentation was offered by representatives of the developers: John Barrett of Shop Architects, Gena Wirth of Scape Landscape Architecture and Jason Loiselle of Sherwood Design Engineers, with the primary focus on resiliency, including methods to protect the area during future storms, and the potential for creating more public open space.

As explained at the meeting at Sunnyside Community Services, gaps in the available program include BBQ areas, market space, fishing areas, eateries and community gardens, with open space needs ranging from flexible plaza and lawn space and shaded picnic and sitting areas to play space and a dog run.

Goals presented included building a resilient open space that addresses flood risks and threats from climate change, creating inclusive open space that serves and reflects the wider LIC community, and connecting new and existing parks along the waterfront.

Resilience plans encompass dealing with threats from the ocean via protection barriers, building higher and landscape buffers, and from rainwater through cleaning, infiltration, storage in parks, wetlands and tanks.

Prior to the presentation, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn) briefly addressed the crowd, stating that “public land should be for public purpose” and encouraging those in attendance to speak up. “You have a lot of power,” she told the crowd, and suggested the community should unite behind one or two of its most basic needs.

As has been the case in prior public discussions of the plans, which surround the Anable Basin area, skepticism ran high, with many in attendance wanting to hear more.

“Much of it was extremely thoughtful and valuable,” said board member Kenneth Greenberg when contacted after the meeting. But he felt “there was lack of transparency in the proposed scale, height and density that is the driving force behind their design.”

The images presented, he added, were “exaggerated views of open and natural space. There were barely any images that showed the proposed build-out. It’s also hard to believe that there is no approximation on the increased living and working populations.”

Greenberg was far from the only one to express concern.

“We certainly hear that there may be desires for more open space, for better transparency — all those things are coming,” said Wirth.

For some, it may have been too little too late.

One audience member suggested that the presenters, by “bragging about how many developers are pooling their resources and power against the community,” were not offering a winning argument.

While the crowd remained respectful throughout, there were several instances in which comments from the floor received supportive applause. Case in point was one woman’s simple statement that the community wants “less space being developed on.”

Another disgruntled attendee suggested that “one of the disconnects is that there is no advocacy for the community. This is all coming from the developers’ side.” He called for an increase in the area’s open space ratio, the amount of acreage of public open space against the population, and complained that he was “not getting a realistic resilience solution here.”

Another concerned individual expressed agreement with Maloney, saying, “There should be the same amount of public land at the end of this process” as there is at the outset. He was disturbed that the developers wouldn’t confirm that this would be the case. He said he had met with grassroots organizations who discussed their ideas for redeveloping the neighborhood and questioned why the developers were coming in with a different plan and “not working with city planning to decide what should be done with public land.”

He also addressed the likelihood that “sea level is going to rise,” indicating that “if you build barriers it’s very nice, but water finds a way and it will cause more flooding in the other areas of the neighborhood.”

Greenberg similarly felt the “need to address climate change and resiliency for the entire neighborhood. Solutions need to be based on the best future-looking science and we need to be ready and able to change our approach since the data is constantly in flux.”

He went on to say that he applauds that “the four developers are working together on this issue, but it is not clear that the solutions thus far proposed will protect the surrounding community.”

The four developers involved in the project are TF Cornerstone, Simon Baron Development, L&L MAG and the newest addition, Plaxall, the biggest landowner in the area.

Diane Hendry, a 30-year resident of the area and spokesperson for the LIC Coalition, a community organization, went so far as to say that the presentation was “sort of meaningless without understanding that this rezone brings 12 or 20 thousand additional people. If we don’t question this rezone for our waterfront, we will contribute to the problems of future generations.”

A representative of the Western Queens Community Land Trust referred to what he called a “counter-proposal,” alluding to the Our LIC website, which indicates that the organization’s aim is to “make sure the 28 acres of waterfront property they want to develop does not contribute to further gentrification, does not further damage our already-crumbling infrastructure, addresses the imminent environmental threat LIC faces due to climate change, and ensures that our public land remains publicly owned.”

In a flier distributed at the meeting, Our LIC asserts that Your LIC is controlled by private developers, is planning upzoning to allow more luxury development, is handing public land to private developers and driving rents up in surrounding neighborhoods. It also addresses a controversial Department of Education building, which it would like to see turned into a not-for-profit community land trust, “a true community hub offering affordable manufacturing space, working artist studios, a school, a rooftop garden, a food coop, open space and more.”

It concludes that “this should be a community-driven process, unbiased and fact-driven. We demand that no more public land be given away to private development.”

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