Hundreds of Sunset Park residents, activists, and other interested parties gathered at the opulent Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope this Monday to make their voices heard about Industry City’s controversial rezoning request. Supporters touted the promise of new jobs and economic development, whereas opponents warned against housing displacement and environmental impact.
Industry City is a massive commercial complex in Sunset Park that houses manufacturers, retailers, galleries, and restaurants, currently in talks with the City Planning Commission and City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca for a rezoning. If successful, Industry City would add another 1.46 million square feet and would be able to develop academic buildings for universities, parking garages, and a broader range of retail spaces.
Industry City has already made concessions in their negotiation with Councilmember Menchaca, who has voiced concerns about Industry City’s rezoning request in the past. Industry City is no longer including dormitories or hotels in its development plan. It has also promised to work on a Community Benefits Agreement in an effort to make peace with Sunset Park residents.
Housing justice advocates who attended the meeting gave fiery speeches against Industry City and the gentrification that they believe the rezoning will invite into their community.
“Industry city wants to create an innovation district, but there’s nothing innovative about predatory development and gentrification,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the Latino community organization UPROSE.
Marcela Mitaynes, a veteran housing advocate and candidate for Assembly District 51 that represents Sunset Park, warned that if Industry City successfully rezones, rents in the surrounding community will skyrocket and life-long community members will be displaced.
“Our homes are at risk, that’s why we’re so passionate,” said Mitaynes. “We’re desperate. We have people who are one rent hike away from being displaced.”
In the last decade, the population of Sunset Park has exploded, while the available housing stock has remained the same, leading to rising property prices and rents. NYC City Planning Community Board 7 Profile shows that while from 2000-2010, Sunset Park added 5,000 new residents, the next 5 years likely added 35,000 new residents, according to Census estimates.
The majority of the residential buildings in Sunset Park were built before 1939, and based on permits issued by the city, most of the new development is market rate, and there is not all that much of it. In fact, Furman Center reports a decline in available housing units. All in all, it seems just about 80 units of what the city classifies as “affordable” housing have been created since 2010, according to the latest data from the city, including the redevelopment of Sunset Park Library to include affordable housing.
David Crofton, who co-owns a small chain of upscale bakeries called One Girl Cookies and rents space at Industry City, was more positive.
“Six years ago, when we first started construction, nobody felt safe at night around here,” said Crofton. “We couldn’t really do business. Industry City has done so much to change that landscape for us.”
Members of the Carpenter’s Union and 32BJ Service Employees International Union showed up en masse to show support for rezoning.
Edward Perez, a carpenter and delegate for the Local 157, said almost 200 members of the Carpenter’s Union live in Sunset Park.
“We want to be able to have work. If something’s going to happen in our community we should be a part of it as well. Because we live in this community as well, not just the other community members,” said Perez. “I understand what they’re saying, but we need this.”
Mitaynes worries that Industry City is creating a false dichotomy between development and housing in order to divide the unions and the rest of the Sunset Park community.
“One of the things that we’re trying to make clear is that we’re not against development,” said Mitaynes. “This is something that we need to start having larger conversations with the unions about, because housing isn’t affordable, so I know that they are also feeling that crunch.”
Perez understands that the rising cost of living is an issue, but worries that obstructing Industry City’s rezoning campaign will do more harm than good.
“Before anything happened with Industry City, all of the rents were coming up… I see it as inevitable,” said Perez. “Better that they come down to a good agreement, instead of saying ‘No, no, no, we don’t want the changes.’ To me, it’s just absurd. I think they should say ‘let’s bargain.’”
Mitaynes addressed the union members in the audience directly in her speech.
“To my union brothers and sisters in the audience: I ask you for compassion and understanding as to why you were asked to come here,” said Mitaynes. “This community should not have to choose between a home and a living wage.”
Opponents of Industry City say that they’d rather see green jobs that originate from the community in Sunset Park.
“Industry city’s proposal threatens the working class character, affordability and social cohesion of the Sunset Park community. If Industry City wants to develop in Sunset Park, they must do so in context,” said UPROSE Executive Director Yeampierre. “They must amend their proposal to include the recommendations of the Green Resilient Industrial District (GRID) that are based on existing community based plans, years of engagement, organizing and community planning.”
“We appreciate the opportunity to articulate the benefits of the plan that will create more than 20,000 jobs, attract $1 billion in private investment and support hundreds of local entrepreneurs in launching their business,” said Andrew Kimball, the CEO of Industry City, in a written statement distributed at the event. “We are hopeful that Community Board 7 can agree that the plan is worthy of their support.”
The board will host a workshop for their final recommendation to Councilmember Menchaca on January 4. The location will be announced on their website.
Correction: Marcela Mitaynes is running for Assembly District 51, not council district 38.