Sunset Park residents grappled with the contentious Industry City’s rezoning application at the Community Board 7 meeting last night, voicing concern for gentrification and community impact, yet again, as they contemplate what they can get behind, and what more can be negotiated. The rezoning has been in the works for some time, and the community has to weigh blocking the rezoning, against what happens then.
Industry City, a massive manufacturing-shopping-business complex located in Sunset Park between the waterfront and 3rd Avenue, wants to add an additional 1.46 million square feet to its existing 5.3-million-square-foot campus. The rezoning looks to change the industrial nature of the development to allow for more office, hotel, and educational uses. What is unusual about this rezoning is the size of it and the fact that it is a privately requested rezoning.
“How will that affect everything else that’s going on in our neighborhood?” asked John Fontillas, the CB7 Land-Use Chair. “How does it address climate change? How are they addressing parking? What is that going to do to traffic on 3rd Avenue?”
Sunset Park residents fear the far-reaching implications of this kind of development – most of all – gentrification and displacement.
CB7 is only tasked with providing a recommendation, which is not binding. The City Planning Commission will review, and the local council member – in this case, Carlos Menchaca – has historically had the final say in how the council votes on proposed rezonings in their district. He’s had a lot to say in the past.
Community Board 7 will vote on their recommendation on January 15. In the meantime, Board members and eight different committees – consisting of unpaid neighbors appointed by the Borough President and Councilmember – will be reviewing hundreds of pages of documents and hosting regular meetings to gauge the response of the community.
“This is an opportunity for us to be on the record about the philosophical orientation of what we value in this community,” said Chairperson Cesar Zuniga. “Speak about the lived experiences of our neighbors, of us as individual stakeholders, and everything that we’ve heard from people. It’s not a simple yes or no question.”
Board Member Peter Wong is concerned about the potential rezoning but is also wary of oversimplifying the issue.
“If we just say yes, we’ve done something wrong, and if we just say no, we’ve done something wrong. We should look to get as much out of this process as possible,” he said.
To Wong, a parallel housing effort carried out by elected officials or a jobs program run by Industry City could help to ameliorate some of the social ills of expansion.
He also worries that a hardline antagonism could lead to a reorientation of Industry City that would harm the neighborhood. He pointed to Industry City’s near-relationship with Amazon as an example of how the location could shift from a business megacomplex to an exclusive office park even without a change in zoning rules.
“The thing you have to consider is that, if nothing passes and Amazon were interested, they could lease out all of Industry City for headquarters… If you say ‘no,’ are they going to do something like that? You have to work with the leverage you have.”
The debate will continue among the board and community members until the vote on January 15. There will be a presentation from Industry City and a public hearing at Grand Prospect Hall on December 9.