Sunset Park

A look back at this year’s Industry City rezoning battle

2019: Year in Review

December 27, 2019 Scott Enman
Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
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A lot happened in Brooklyn this year — from environmental policies to infrastructure changes to housing reform. We’ve wrapped up the key pieces for you in “2019: Year in Review.” 

This past year was a busy one for Industry City and its controversial rezoning. The proposal, which is currently in the public review process, pushes for a $1 billion redevelopment that would add roughly 1.3 million square feet of space to the complex by 2027.

Here’s everything that happened.

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A plan was proposed — then delayed.

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Japan Village, a food hall and Japanese market, is a sign of the kinds of retail Industry City hopes to expand on. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The fight over Industry City’s expansion kicked off in early March, when backers filed a land use application with the Department of City Planning.

The goal was “to fully reactivate the long-dormant, non-productive buildings of Industry City into a job-intensive hub for manufacturers, innovators and entrepreneurs, while also maximizing economic opportunity for area residents and local businesses,” said Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball.

A threat to block the proposal from Councilmember Carlos Menchaca spurred Industry City to withdraw the application for six months.

Opponents organized.

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Opponents of the plan delivered petitions to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Critics of the plan told the Brooklyn Eagle that the rezoning could dramatically reshape Sunset Park, exacerbating displacement and gentrification in the largely immigrant low-income neighborhood. Any changes to the Brooklyn waterfront, they said, should be geared toward adapting to climate change, protecting blue-collar jobs and preserving the working-class character of the area.

With the official review of Industry City’s rezoning expected for the fall, residents gathered for the first of several meetings to learn, ask and begin the process of creating a clear roadmap for the future of Sunset Park.

Opponents of the plan delivered petitions to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who by the way wields a lot of power in this process.

Menchaca drew a line.

Carlos Menchaca. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. Photo: Andy Katz/Brooklyn Eagle

After keeping mum, Menchaca called a gathering to announce his thoughts. At the meeting, which the councilmember ended early, Menchaca said he will not approve Industry City’s rezoning until the developers concede to a set of rigid conditions, and the mayor’s office increased investment into Sunset Park.

Menchaca then gave Industry City representatives a tight deadline to revise the plan with those modifications. That same week, Menchaca urged Community Board 7 to unite behind a Community Benefits Agreement to prevent “capitalistic animals” from taking over Industry City.

Industry City agreed to Menchaca’s demands.

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball in the Innovation Lab. Photo by Andy Katz
Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball. Photo: Andy Katz/Brooklyn Eagle

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball met with Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and the elected official’s working group — made up of residents and community organizers — and agreed to delay moving forward with their land-use application.

Menchaca had previously vowed not to support Industry City’s rezoning if it was rushed into certification, which the developer had planned to do on Sept. 23. Kimball agreed to the councilmember’s requests, including removing hotels, creating a manufacturing hub managed by a nonprofit and restricting retail uses.

Tensions seemed to simmer

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Residents gathered in the fall for a “Public Speak Out.” Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

With the rezoning proposal seemingly put on hold, Menchaca wrote an open letter 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.

Following September’s contentious town hall on Industry City’s rezoning, residents gathered for a “Public Speak Out” — the first of several hosted by Community Board 7 — to candidly express their opinions on the controversial proposal. Though the room was split between those who supported the plan and those who rejected it, there was a common theme: a call for unity.

Industry City shocked the community

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Menchaca called Kimball’s abrupt actions “deeply troubling” and “premature.” Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball unexpectedly put forward the proposal for certification just a month after agreeing to delay it to allow for additional community engagement. The filing came as a surprise to many within the Sunset Park community, including Menchaca, who said Kimball’s abrupt actions were “deeply troubling” and “premature.”

Following the announcement, the local community board called an emergency meeting to discuss the certification and the next steps now that the city’s land use process had officially begun.

With the community board’s deadline to vote on Industry City’s rezoning approaching, Menchaca and CB7 chair Cesar Zuñiga called on the mayor to send his top advisers to the board to shed insight — and discuss the city’s investments — as residents consider the 172-page application.

The start of the public review process

Industry City. Photo by Paul Frangipane
Opponents of Industry City want a contract with the company. Photo Paul Frangipane

With the clock ticking on the public review process of Industry City’s rezoning, a group of residents and community organizations in Sunset Park began to explore the viability of a Community Benefits Agreement with the developers. The agreement seeks to ensure that Industry City — or any future landlord of the industrial complex — improves living conditions in the neighborhood for years to come.

Industry City representatives then made a final push for the expansion at a public hearing hosted by CB7. Members of Protect Sunset Park, a grassroots organization staunchly against the expansion, stood in the aisles of the meeting holding up various signs against the rezoning. Union members, and those in support of the plan, countered with their own placards.

Menchaca then wrote an op-ed for the Eagle explaining what the rezoning “is really about.”

A representative for de Blasio sent a letter to Menchaca and Zuñiga in December refusing to meet, causing the two Sunset Park leaders to be outraged. In a joint statement, Menchaca and Zuñiga called de Blasio’s snub “offensive” and a “slap in the face.” They promised to try again to set up a meeting. The refusal raised significant questions about the rezoning’s future, as Menchaca had declared it would only go through if the de Blasio administration agreed to specific investments in Sunset Park. Without that commitment, the councilmember will either have to scrap the plan — or reconsider his ultimatum.


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