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Public Review of Flushing Waterfront Rezoning Project to Resume Wednesday

A rendering of the proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District (Image Courtesy Hill West Architects)

Sept. 14, 2020 By Allie Griffin

The public review process of the contentious Flushing waterfront rezoning project will resume Wednesday after it was postponed several months due to the pandemic.

The City Planning Commission will host a virtual meeting on the Special Flushing Waterfront District project (SFWD) on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

A consortium of real estate firms called FWRA hopes to rezone a large section of the Flushing waterfront so it can build a 13-tower, mixed-use complex with office space, 879 hotel rooms and 1,725 apartments — of which 61 units would be affordable.

FWRA filed a land use application in December 2019 to rezone the 29-acre property bounded by 36th Avenue to the north, College Point Boulevard to the east and Roosevelt Avenue to the south.

Many community groups oppose the rezoning. They argue that rents would rise and that many existing Flushing residents would be displaced. The developers, meanwhile, say the project would revitalize a polluted area and bring jobs and much-needed economic growth.

The application was approved by Community Board 7 earlier this year, but later rejected by Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee. The City Planning Commission will review the application next, followed by the City Council — which ultimately makes the decision.

Lee, in her advisory role, said the project would displace long-time residents — many of whom are elderly and live on fixed incomes.

“The scale and scope of the plan will significantly change the landscape of Downtown Flushing with long lasting impacts on the area within and surrounding the [the Waterfront District],” Lee wrote.

“The people living closest to the SFWD will bear the brunt of the noise, dust, traffic and other construction-related inconveniences as the proposed project is built, with little chance to afford or secure some of the new housing that would be built in the new modern waterfront development,” she added.

However, Lee’s rejection came with conditions that could make the rezoning more tenable. These included FWRA hiring union labor for construction and permanent jobs, as well as making a commitment to building more affordable housing.

The project has been a source of a great deal of tension and emotions have frayed.

The February Community Board hearing drew dozens of protesters who criticized the FWRA’s plans. There were many angry exchanges between residents and board members for and against the proposal.

Several civic groups, including MinKwon Center for Community Action, the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Chhaya CDC oppose the rezoning project. The groups say an influx of luxury buildings would intensify gentrification and displacement in Flushing.

Two influential unions — 32BJ SEIU, which represents property service workers, and the New York Hotel Trades Council — are also against FWRA’s plan, saying the consortium needs to commit to prevailing wage labor and plan more affordable housing.

MinKwon Center for Community Action organized a rally over the weekend at the Flushing library to pressure Council Member Peter Koo to oppose the rezoning application in his district.

The City Council commonly votes in lockstep with the member representing the area where a rezoning application is sought. Koo has yet to make any public decisions on the application.

FWRA maintains that its project would be beneficial to the community.

The group of developers said the criticism is only coming from a “small group of loud, misguided voices.”

FWRA’s plans include public waterfront access, a road network and affordable housing units. The developers note that the project would transform a heavily contaminated area into an exciting outdoor space for the public.

They also note that the development would create about 3,000 permanent jobs and bring in much-needed tax revenue.

“The Special Flushing Waterfront District developers are busy working to ensure that our community moves forward, not backwards,” a spokesperson for FWRA said. “In the end, it’s the hard-working people of Flushing that will be affected most if new jobs and significant tax revenues that fund civic works and programs are not created.”

A largely inactive part of Flushing’s waterfront would be radically transformed by the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal that Community Board 7 will vote on at its Monday meeting. (Image Courtesy Hill West Architects)

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