Sunset Park

Menchaca explains Industry City decision in open letter

"Saying ‘no’ outright is unacceptable to me."

September 27, 2019 Scott Enman

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca penned an open letter on Thursday clarifying his decision to allow Industry City’s rezoning to proceed with concessions, while also explaining his thought process. He called the outcome a “major victory” and reiterated that saying “no” outright to the proposal was “unacceptable” and would only exacerbate current trends of gentrification, displacement and rising rents.

The Sunset Park politician released the message after his office received numerous inquiries from residents who felt there was ambiguity surrounding the role of an advisory group that helped him reach his conclusions, according to a staffer.

Menchaca said that no single entity or individual influenced his thinking, but that he ultimately needed others to help him analyze all of the information.

“I convened a group to help me, comprised of many Community Board 7 committee chairs and several non-profits who are experts in understanding our neighborhood’s history and needs,” he wrote.

“I asked this advisory group to engage with all the research I was doing, and grapple with the complexity of the concerns. While I relied on their advice and analysis, the solutions I developed are my own.”

Some, however, described those “closed-door” discussions as contrary to a community driven process. Protect Sunset Park, a group formed to oppose the rezoning, confronted Menchaca on Sept. 20 as he was meeting with the working group and representatives of Industry City.

Menchaca said he would never support Industry City’s rezoning unless the developers first concede to a set of rigid conditions, and the Mayor’s Office and City Council then increase investment into Sunset Park.

He also said he would reject the proposal if the developers rushed it through certification. Industry City had initially planned to submit the land-use application on Sept. 23, but eventually agreed to delay it.

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In his letter, Menchaca claimed that Industry City’s presence has already exacerbated gentrification, displacement and rising rents — all while his neighborhood continues to grapple with poor housing, climate change and tenant harassment and eviction.

“It is clear to me that modifying Industry City’s proposal is the best way to start tackling and hopefully start reversing these trends,” he wrote. “The alternative of doing nothing, of saying ‘no’ outright, is unacceptable to me.

“Housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization. Manufacturing and industrial property owners will continue to take advantage of our extremely flexible zoning rules and convert to office and retail uses.”

Industry City spokesperson Lisa Serbaniewicz told the Brooklyn Eagle that they value Menchaca’s leadership and the time he and his advisory group have dedicated to the process. “Conversations are ongoing and we are hopeful that a solution leading to the creation of 20,000 jobs can be found,” she said.

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane

In response to Menchaca’s letter, a group of leaders and advocates from the Mexican-American community delivered their own response to the councilmember on Thursday at a Mexican independence celebration, urging him to reconsider his position and “unequivocally reject” the rezoning plan.

“While your recent letter claims that housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization, we believe that this reasoning is flawed,” they wrote.

“If a developer-led rezoning is allowed to go through, the displacement of Sunset Park’s immigrant and working-class families will be accelerated by real estate speculation and the accompanying rise in property values.”

The authors said Menchaca should work with them, rather than the developers, to build a community-driven vision for Sunset Park.

One of Menchaca’s honorees, Guadalupe Umbrosio, publicly called on Menchaca, who is the first Mexican-American legislator elected to the City Council, to say “no” as she accepted a proclamation at the ceremony.

Sunset Park has one of the largest Mexican-American populations in New York City.

Menchaca left open the possibility that he could still say “no” even after ULURP — the city’s time-limited land-use process — begins, if he feels the rezoning is not on the right track toward benefiting the community as he initially envisioned.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

Menchaca’s letter

Dear Neighbors,

I want to share with you some news about Sunset Park, specifically on Industry City.

On Monday, Industry City again delayed their pursuit to rezone their privately-owned property.

This is a major victory for our community. It is proof that when we exercise our power, we dictate what happens to our neighborhoods and when.

Industry City delayed their effort because they agreed to a set of conditions I outlined last week, first in my presentation, and then in a letter I sent to Industry City.

There were three conditions:

Industry City must modify their proposal to include solutions for addressing our most pressing challenges. That means no hotels, no big box retail, and lots of space set aside for manufacturing businesses and jobs.

Industry City must work with me to get the Mayor’s Office involved. We need the City to invest in a new technical high school, affordable housing, and other supports and resources; Industry City must agree to enter into a legally binding contract with the Sunset Park community. This will allow Sunset Park to hold them accountable and bind any future property owner to the terms.

I want to be clear about how I developed these conditions. I did not make them lightly, and no single group or individual in Sunset Park influenced my thinking.

Instead, I spent the last six months listening to all of you. I met with community organizations, institutions, local businesses, and experts on housing, jobs, and climate change.

My team or I attended every Community Board town hall and listened to countless residents express a wide range of opinions on Industry City – from concern to support, and hope to fear.

My team and I researched neighborhood trends around housing, jobs, affordability, manufacturing, and climate change.

I did not want to analyze all of this information alone. So I convened a group to help me, comprised of many Community Board 7 committee chairs and several non-profits who are experts in understanding our neighborhood’s history and needs.

I asked this advisory group to engage with all the research I was doing, and grapple with the complexity of the concerns. While I relied on their advice and analysis, the solutions I developed are my own. I believe we must pursue them to address the most pressing challenges facing our neighborhood.

Industry City has almost certainly exacerbated gentrification, displacement, and rising rents. Our neighbors continue to experience tenant harassment and eviction, poor housing, and we are not prepared for climate change, nor do we have a means for preserving the manufacturing and industrial character of our working waterfront, a clear call from the 197-a neighborhood plan.

It is clear to me that modifying Industry City’s proposal is the best way to start tackling and hopefully start reversing these trends. The alternative of doing nothing, of saying “no” outright, is unacceptable to me. Housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization. Manufacturing and industrial property owners will continue to take advantage of our extremely flexible zoning rules and convert to office and retail uses.

I believe we as a community, and especially I as your Council Member, have an obligation to engage Industry City so we can start putting in place solutions on over 5 million square feet of our waterfront to stand against these harmful trends.

Now that Industry City has agreed to delay, I have asked this advisory group to help me devise a clear and timely process for creating a community contract. A group from Sunset Park must arise to negotiate the contract and enforce its terms in the future. The group must have the tools necessary for negotiating the strongest contract possible. I will share next steps in this process once they are decided.

In the meantime, I know many of you still have questions or concerns about my position–or even about the very idea of engaging a private developer. I welcome those questions and concerns. Invite me to your office, your events, or your living rooms. I want to have these conversations with you.

I also want to remind everyone that even if we get a contract started, and even if ULURP starts, I can still say no. I will oppose this rezoning at any stage unless it benefits our community.

Let’s talk. Call my office at 718-439-9012 or email at [email protected]

In your service,
Carlos Menchaca
Council Member
District 38

Protect Sunset Park’s letter

Dear Council Member Menchaca:

More than 200 years ago, El Grito de Dolores, announced to the world the intent of Mexican people to free themselves from Spanish colonialism and determine their own destiny. The Mexican people embarked on a great effort to govern their own affairs and create a more equal and inclusive nation. This ongoing quest for independence and self-determination informs a heritage that Mexicans carry to this day and one that is reflected in the character and spirit of the Mexican-American community of New York.

Tonight at City Hall you will be celebrating La Independencia de México as the very first Mexican American legislator elected to the New York City Council and representing a district with one of the largest Mexican American communities in New York City. As leaders and advocates for the Mexican American community of New York, we write to urge you to reconsider your position and unequivocally reject a rezoning plan that would let Jamestown Properties and their business partners — Angelo Gordon & Co., Cammeby’s International, Belvedere Capital and FBE Limited— rewrite the land rules on upwards of six million square feet on the Brooklyn waterfront to newly allow large luxury retail stores and an additional million square feet in new construction.

Council District 38 and the Sunset Park neighborhood is a diverse and immigrant-friendly community, where one of the largest concentrations of Mexican-Americans in New York reside. They pay taxes, shop on “la Quinta” (5th Avenue), and contribute to the civic and political life of South Brooklyn. Sunset Park’s immigrant communities helped build and revitalize Sunset Park. While your recent letter claims that housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization, we believe that this reasoning is flawed. If a developer-led rezoning is allowed to go through, the displacement of Sunset Park’s immigrant and working-class families will be accelerated by real estate speculation and the accompanying rise in property values.

As the very first Mexican-American elected to serve in the New York CIty Council, and as Chair of the City Counci’s Immigration Committee, you leave behind a legacy that fills us with pride. This includes launching IDNYC, city-issued identification cards that recognize all New Yorkers; championing participatory budgeting, to open up government spending to all, and fighting to expand funding for immigration legal services and adult literacy.

Tonight as you stand in the City Council celebrating Mexican Independence Day, please keep in mind its enduring lesson: the people, united, will never ever be defeated; el pueblo unido jamás será vencido. Our people have been proud to stand with you, will support you in rejecting this developer-led rezoning, and will work with you to build a community-driven vision for Sunset Park.

Atentamente,

Adan Palermo Rojas, Sunset Park resident

Agustino Flores, County Committee Member, Brooklyn Democratic Party

Alicia Chavez, Manos Unidas

Benito Bravo, Ballet Folklorico Quetzalcoatl NY

Blana Carabajo, Manos Unidas

Blandina Morales, Centro Comunitario de Bensonhurst

Denise Vivar, DREAMer and former Sunset Park resident

Evelyn Garcia, Sunset Park for a Liberated Future

Esther Sosa, formerly with Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Estrella Aguilar y Doña Gabina Rodriguez, El Comité Para la Ayuda a la Comunidad at Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Jorge Muñiz, Protect Sunset Park

Kay Cid, Sunset Park resident

Liliana Carrillo, St. Michael’s Church

Matilde Pedrero, Sunset Park resident

Michelle Flores Garcia, County Committee Member, Brooklyn Democratic Party

Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz, New Sanctuary Movement

Robert Aguilar, The Sunset Park Podcast

Rodrigo Camarena, Protect Sunset Park

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