CB 7 Hosts Heated Town Hall on Industry City Rezoning Plans

November 16, 2018 Jaime DeJesus
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A town hall meeting about Industry City’s massive $1 billion rezoning proposal for redevelopment that includes the building of hotels, additional retail spots and academic centers was the subject of a heated and passionate gathering at Community Board 7, 4201 Fourth Avenue, on Monday, November 5.

With the city’s mandatory review process, ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), slated to commence shortly, CEO of IC Andrew Kimball discussed the plan among a hostile crowd that wanted answers regarding displacement and gentrification, common fears among many Sunset Park residents.

“We were delighted to present the community board access to our plan,” Kimball told this paper. “We are really proud of the progress we’ve made over the last five years. (We) created 5,000 jobs, with many of those going to the local community through our Innovation lab. I was really happy to have 75 of our businesses and people that got jobs and community partners there at the town hall as well.”

The new plan is for a 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment that would increase IC’s total usable square footage from 5.3 to 6.6 million square feet and would create 15,000 on-site jobs.

The proposal, IC says is broadly aligned with CB 7’s 197A Plan and includes expansion of the IC campus to 35 acres, spread through 16 buildings, with over 450 companies on site, and IC says it will create opportunity in Sunset Park in key areas such as economic development, environment, open space, education, transportation, historic preservation and community facilities.

197-A plans are developed in accordance with the City Charter, by community boards and borough boards, in conjunction with the mayor, City Planning Commission (CPC), Department of City Planning and borough president, “to sponsor plans for the development, growth, and improvement of the city, its boroughs and communities,” according to nyc.gov.

Industry City’s proposal “has four major components,” Kimball explained. It involves a significant down-zoning in terms of use, from an emphasis on heavy manufacturing, which, he said, was “meant for the days of smokestacks and uses like chemical plants, tanneries, things that were never at Industry City and won’t ever be,” to light manufacturing, “similar to what the (Brooklyn) Navy Yard has, for example, and creating an innovation district.”

This, Kimball added, would incorporate “a limited amount of retail, a limited amount of academic, a limited amount of hotels and some additional buildable space so we can maximize the opportunity.”

However, many aren’t sold on the project.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of non-profit UPROSE, is one of the sceptics, calling the presentation, “32 pages of spin.

“It was really heartwarming to see the community turn out to express how dishonest Industry City is being and how it has already had an impact on their lives,” she went on. “You heard residents talking about the economic pressures that it has caused and you heard businesses talk about how they’ve been displaced. The people that live in Sunset Park were able to clearly articulate their anger about the misleading message that Industry City continues to invest in.”

Image courtesy of Industry City

Kimball, however, contended that IC has benefited Sunset from an employment standpoint, citing the Innovation Lab, among other things.

“There’s always more you can do,” he went on, “and we are delighted to engage in a conversation with the community board and concerned community members about how to grow and expand the Innovation Lab. There’s a great story to tell there.”

Yeampierre, however, disagreed. “I’m assuming what (Kimball) was trying to do is let the community board know they are complying with the 197A plan when in fact their vision for what they call the creative economy is directly in opposition to what the 197A plan stands for,” she contended.

“They are commercializing an industrial sector,” Yeampierre went on. “They’re not even denying that. They’re being honest about wanting luxury hotels and attracting what we call the creative class. That vision is completely in opposition to a vision that supports the working class and good paying jobs for those people. The high tech industries and the businesses they’re interested in, they are not jobs for our community, and the job carrot is a very misleading one. It’s not the kind of economic development that an industrial place that does manufacturing would supply.”

“I think there are very legitimate concerns about displacement,” Chair of CB 7 Cesar Zuniga told this paper. “There are a lot of passionate folks speaking out against Industry City’s plan to rezone but there are people that want genuinely to understand more on both sides. There are also local businesses that are part of the IC complex and they came out and voiced their opinions. For me, some really good ideas came out of the meeting and some of the ideas really aligned with some of the work that we’re doing at the community board.”

One of those suggestions was that Industry City commit to investing in a land trust and an affordable housing trust.

“That’s a compelling idea because, in conjunction with these hearings, we’re going to study the feasibility of building more affordable housing in Sunset Park,” Zuniga said. “There is a relationship between the rezoning and displacement and how it affects gentrification, but I don’t think the solution to the affordable housing issue is voting the rezoning up or down. The real solution to the affordable housing crisis is public policy. We have to get elected officials and developers to understand what we need in the community is to build more affordable housing.”

Kimball, for his part, told this paper, “I think that Industry City is part of the answer, not part of the problem. Creating good-paying jobs for the middle class is what we need in this city, and taking a site that was mostly vacant and derelict for 50 years and bringing it back to life as a job creation engine is a good thing. The answer to increased rental and purchase costs in the community is building more affordable housing and workforce housing.”

Another issue is what the plan would mean for small businesses.

“They’re important to our community,” Yeampierre said. “Already there are leases that are not being renewed along the waterfront. Industry City is looking beyond its own space to expand. Small businesses are disappearing. These are the entry to the middle class for a lot of immigrants who have a dream of how to prosper in the United States.”

She also opined that, although locals may get a job at IC, they won’t be able to live in Sunset Park.

IC has “missed the opportunity to do something truly innovative,” Yeampierre said. “What they’ve done is recreate Williamsburg or Chelsea. Nothing that would incentivize the local economy while addressing the needs of the region. They didn’t do that. They could have.”

That perception may have spurred some of the anger expressed at the hearing.

“I do think people were just angry with some of (Kimball’s) responses,” Zuniga said. “That’s not to say he wasn’t trying but I think the context didn’t lend itself for a real back-and-forth to drill down on some specifics.

“If the community is going to make well-informed decisions, we have to have good data,” he stressed. “I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m more than willing to work with Industry City to come up with some clear-cut accountability structure. I have to trust that there’s a willingness on their end to make some of the data available but we also have to figure out how to be consumers of that data and create a structure where we’re being transparent about the data sources and what it is telling us.”

The chairperson remains neutral on the plan. “I honestly believe my role is to facilitate a conversation,” he said. “I may not get it right but I’m trying hard to do the right thing as a facilitator and bring multiple voices to the table. We have to do the work even if it’s messy or uncomfortable.”

ULURP should commence shortly, Zuniga said. Once the clock starts ticking, CB 7 has 60 days to review the proposal and issue a recommendation. At that point, the proposal goes to the borough president, who has 30 days to review it and issue a recommendation before it is sent to the CPC, which has 60 days to render a verdict on it. Finally, the proposal is sent to the City Council, which has 50 days to vote it up or down, or make modifications. Once the City Council votes to approve a zoning change, the mayor has five days to veto it before it becomes law.

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