Local community board split on Industry City’s application to expand

January 21, 2020 Scott Enman
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SUNSET PARK — Community Board 7 members voted on Wednesday to disapprove two of four proposed actions on Industry City’s expansion unless at least 82 conditions are met by both Industry City and city and state agencies.

The board voted “no” with conditions on the applicant’s request for a zoning special permit and for the de-mapping of 40th Street. They offered no recommendation, however, on the request for a newly mapped “special Industry City District” and for the creation of special district zoning text, since neither position won a majority. 

Of the 82 conditions put forward by six of the board’s committees, 43 are for Industry City and 39 are for city and state agencies. Among the conditions directed at Industry City were better access to the waterfront and safer pedestrian streetscapes on public and private blocks adjacent to the complex; among those directed at city and state agencies was a request that the Landmarks Preservation Commission consider whether the complex’s Finger Buildings, which were the former Bush Terminal warehouses, should be designated as city landmarks or receive State and National Historic Register status.

If a city or state agency were unable to meet some of the community board’s conditions, then in some cases, the onus would fall on the applicant. For example, the board asked that the city’s Housing Preservation and Development department fund an affordable housing analysis one year after the rezoning. If HPD cannot meet that deadline, however, Industry City would then be required to fund the report itself.

A community board member stands up to explain the reasons behind his vote. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Over the course of the meeting, the board debated adding last-minute amendments, including issuing restrictions on the heights of buildings, limiting storage space and prohibiting retail.

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

The vote on Wednesday brought to an end a long and contentious first portion of the city’s land use application process and provided relief for some community board members.

“It was a culmination of a year-and-a-half and 35 meetings,” said Jeremy Laufer, district manager of CB7. “I’m personally grateful that that portion of it is over, but I think the debate last night really shows you all of the work that our board put in, but also the real divide that’s in the community over how the community sees or wants Industry City to proceed into the future.”

The community board is the first group to issue a recommendation in the city’s seven-month public review. Though it’s purely advisory, it can set the tone for the rest of the process.

Representatives from Industry City sat in the crowd. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

George Janes, an urban planner and zoning lawyer, told CB7 in July that a well-written recommendation on the record would be difficult for the other parties to ignore.

“Yes, your vote is advisory, but you speak first,” Janes said in July. “You set that agenda. You’re an essential part of this process. I can’t say how important it is … The first question the borough president, the City Planning Commission and councilmembers ask is: ‘What did the community board say?’”

Borough President Eric Adams is next to issue a formal recommendation on the plan, which he will release in the “coming weeks,” according to his office.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca wields the most power in the rezoning battle. His vote in the City Council is crucial to the proposal’s approval, and he 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.)

Menchaca intended to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but the community board requested that he not be present.

“Last night we saw democracy in action,” Menchaca said the next day. “We saw our Community Board debate with extreme commitment an application of massive proportions, one they have been diligently discussing the last two years. Industry City’s application is the largest change to an industrial waterfront ever proposed in New York City’s history. We must continue to discuss its complexity openly and I’m ready to continue having that conversation anytime, anywhere, and with anyone.”

Members of the audience showed visible signs of fatigue hours into the meeting. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Just a day before the community board vote, a public hearing on the rezoning was shut down after chanting from the audience interrupted speakers. The hearing, hosted by Adams, was the second public gathering on the expansion plan that ended prematurely due to disruptions.

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. Industry City CEO Andrew 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.

Industry City did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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