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CB 7 Approves Contentious Flushing Waterfront Rezoning

A rendering of the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District, which Community Board 7 approved Monday (Image Courtesy Hill West Architects)

Feb. 11, 2020 By Ryan Brady

At a tense Monday night meeting, Community Board 7 voted 30-8 to approve a development team’s plan to rezone a large section of land by Flushing Creek.

Dozens of protesters showed up to criticize the land-use application filed by FWRA, a consortium of real estate firms behind the project.

The development group wants to rezone a section of the area so it can construct a 13-tower project with 1,725 residential units and 879 hotel rooms–along with retail and office space–by the waterfront.

The 29-acre property is bound to the north by 36th Avenue, to the east by College Point Boulevard and to the south by Roosevelt Avenue.

FWRA seeks the creation of the Special Flushing Waterfront District and a rezoning in order to move ahead with the proposed plan.

32BJ SEIU member Bryce Moreno urges Community Board 7 to reject the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District, which the advisory panel ultimately approved. Credit: TWITTER PHOTO / 32BJ SEIU

The standing-room only meeting was heated. Activists grew frustrated that they were unable to speak until after FWRA presented its lengthy and time-consuming presentation, which continued on until after 9 p.m.

“Let us speak,” some in the crowd pleaded during FWRA’s presentation.

CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty walked into the crowd and tried to hush some of the unsatisfied people who were waiting for their turn to speak.

In a video of the meeting, one frustrated woman tells Kelty, “Why are you saying this is a public hearing? This is not a public hearing and you know it.”

The footage shows the CB 7 chairman saying, “It is a public hearing,” uttering a few more words that are drowned out by other noise, and then appearing to lunge at the woman to steal her phone before being stopped by police officers and others.

“Let us speak! Let us speak!” the group chanted as Kelty walked away.

The CB 7 chairman could not immediately be reached for comment after the meeting.

Despite the protests, the developers were able to put forward their argument for the special district and rezoning. They said that the public would benefit if their land-use application were approved, since the plans make provision for a publicly accessible park, a road network and some affordable housing.

The developers said that they are able to build much of the project as of right, and that a revised project–should their rezoning application be denied– would see around 300 fewer units. However, of particular note, they said, there wouldn’t be a park or a road network as outlined in the special application.

The revised plans would also lead to the loss of about 75 to 90 affordable housing units that are part of the application. The affordable housing component of the massive development is small since only a portion of 29 acres needs to be rezoned.

Many civic groups oppose the plan. MinKwon Center for Community Action and Chhaya CDC say the FWRA’s plan would intensify gentrification and displacement in Flushing.

Two influential unions — 32BJ SEIU, which represents property service workers, and the New York Hotel Trades Council — have come out against FWRA’s plan, saying the consortium needs to commit to prevailing wage labor and plan more affordable housing.

The two labor groups, along with the MinKwon Center and Chhaya, joined other activists to protest the project on Monday before the CB 7 meeting outside the building where the advisory panel gathers.

The project, however, did have supporters. Many of them urged the board to approve it, according to Land Use Committee Chairman Joe Sweeney.

The application will now go on to be reviewed by Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, the City Planning Commission and then the City Council.

The ultimate decision is made by the City Council and it is common practice for the council to vote in lockstep with the member representing the area where the rezoning is sought. This application is in Peter Koo’s district.

Koo has yet to make a decision on the application and is still evaluating the project, according to his office.

However, Council Zoning Subcommittee Chairman Francisco Moya, who represents Corona and East Elmhurst, has publicly criticized the development proposal for not having more affordable housing or making a commitment to union labor.

A largely inactive part of Flushing’s waterfront would be radically transformed by the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal that Community Board 7 will vote on at its Monday meeting. (Image Courtesy Hill West Architects)

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