Hearing on Industry City expansion ends early due to interruptions — again

January 16, 2020 Scott Enman
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Neighborhood leaders and residents shut down a hearing on Industry City’s proposed waterfront rezoning on Tuesday, after chanting from the audience interrupted speakers.

The hearing, hosted by Borough President Eric Adams, was the second public gathering on the expansion plan that ended prematurely due to interruptions.

“It is one thing to protest a proposed land use action. It’s another to protest your neighbor’s right to voice their opinion in a respectful manner,” said Jonah Allon of the Borough President’s Office. “It troubles us that the people who spoke during the public hearing were preventing others from speaking when it was their turn. After four warnings and multiple disruptions, the borough president decided to end the hearing.”

Allon added that Adams would take each and every piece of public testimony into account before releasing a formal recommendation in the “coming weeks” as part of the city’s land-use process. (Those who were unable to provide comments at the hearing can send their remarks to [email protected].)

Some members of the audience elected to turn their backs on Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball as he spoke. Photo: Protect Sunset Park

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca ended a September presentation on the rezoning after members of the crowd repeatedly interrupted him.

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball, like he did at Community Board 7’s public hearing in December, used his time to speak Tuesday night to advocate for the expansion plan. As he did, portions of the crowd stood and turned their backs to him.

Pastor Juan Carlos Ruiz reads a letter signed by groups against the rezoning at Tuesday’s public hearing. Photo: Protect Sunset Park

Adams ended the meeting, which lasted just a little over an hour, after the crowd began to chant, “Which side are you on Carlos, which side are you on?” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca represents the area and wields immense power in the rezoning battle. The chant has become somewhat of a slogan for those opposed to the rezoning.

Menchaca, whose vote in the City Council is crucial to the proposal’s approval, has said he would only support the plan with concessions from Industry City and additional community investment from City Hall. City Hall has so far rebuffed the request.

The City Council has the final say, and councilmembers normally vote in line with the representative whose district is affected.

“It’s important that everyone’s voice is heard in this process,” Menchaca said. “I encourage everyone to send their testimony to the Borough President’s Office and my office too. As always, I am ready to talk about the rezoning anytime, anywhere, with anyone.”

Kimball said that if not for Adams ending the forum early, it could have reached potentially dangerous levels. “For the second time in this process, to prevent a heated situation from reaching the level of dangerous, an elected official wanting to hear from the public was forced to adjourn a meeting before everyone could be heard,” Kimball said. “It is unfortunate that some agitators would prevent civil discourse simply because they are unwilling to let fact-based information be shared.”

The proposed expansion, a $1 billion redevelopment, would add roughly 1.3 million square feet of space to the complex by 2027. The land use application currently includes academic space and hotels, and expanding “innovation economy” maker spaces and retail. Backers say these changes would help bring in investment and tenants that will drive job growth. Kimball said they expect to create more than 20,000 jobs through the redevelopment.

Critics of the plan, however, say the rezoning could dramatically reshape Sunset Park, exacerbating displacement and gentrification in the largely immigrant, low-income neighborhood. They argue any changes to the Brooklyn waterfront should be geared toward adapting to climate change, protecting blue-collar jobs and preserving the working-class character of the area.

Members of Protect Sunset Park, a grassroots organization staunchly against the expansion, rallied outside Borough Hall before the hearing. They brought with them a letter of opposition, which was signed by 50 Brooklyn progressive groups and elected officials, including New York State Sen. Julia Salazar.

“The fact that we have to come here and beg elected officials to protect our neighborhood is humiliating,” said Gisselle Jimenez, a lifelong Sunset Park resident. “Industry City believes the solution for improving our neighborhood is to kick out current residents and replace them with whiter and richer people. We say no to this private waterfront rezoning.”

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