SUNSET PARK – With the expansion of Sunset Park’s Industry City in flux, the local City Council member hopes pumping the brakes on the project’s approval process will serve as a model that shifts the land use politics paradigm in the city.
On Sunday, Council Member Carlos Menchaca told Bklyner that he wants to spur a “radical” change “away from the status quo” on discretionary development.
Industry City, a 16-building, approximately 500-business complex in Southwest Brooklyn, is seeking a zoning change that would allow it to add retail and educational space, as well as two hotels with more than 400 rooms to its more than 5 million-square-foot campus. Industry City’s 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment plan, which requires a rezoning of the M3 area to be built, promises to create 15,000 jobs and bring an economic boon to the neighborhood.
Predictably, the proposed development in the changing, historically industrial pocket of the city prompted gentrification fears. And about four years after Industry City’s expansion was first floated, the proposal was put on ice in March, when Menchaca, who represents the area, vowed to kill the project unless Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball delayed the application, which he begrudgingly agreed to do.
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Menchaca at first argued he and neighborhood advocates needed more time to mull over the proposal than the city’s land use review process allots, and soon after floated the possibility of not allowing an expansion at all.
Menchaca told Community Board 7 in March that he’s “not sure that a rezoning is at all necessary now,” Curbed reported. Last month, Menchaca told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that “the best-case scenario may be no rezoning.”
At an unrelated press conference in March, Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the redevelopment’s job-creating potential. “This is about … ensuring that there are jobs for people in working communities,” he said. “I understand that there are concerns about gentrification and those are honest and those are real, but the irony to me is that this particular initiative was aimed at creating jobs for working people, for the community and [people] from surrounding communities.”
Kimball, in a letter responding to the local community board’s chair and Menchaca, talked up the benefits of Industry City’s plan and said the no-rezoning option wouldn’t yield the outcome expansion skeptics desire.
“You have the opportunity here to support the type of good paying, accessible job-generating project that so far has resulted in 5,500 new jobs, or 100 new jobs a month, and will lead to 15,000 jobs with a unique mix-use ecosystem of commercial academic and industrial uses,” Kimball wrote. “Or you can slow job creation and force the project to turn entirely to commercial office-type tenants, all as of right under the current archaic heavy M3 zoning.”
Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, said since there are “four times as many jobs and three times as many businesses” at Industry City currently than there were in 2013 “the case for the rezoning is made clear,” no matter the process.
But Menchaca says the way he’s approaching Industry City’s potential growth is about far more than just addressing this particular proposed expansion.
“I’m very committed to building out that sense of leadership, so that other Council members feel like they can take this on,” he said Sunday, of his efforts to establish a model in which the local member has more control over development bids.
Menchaca noted he is bringing in outside experts to assess the likely impacts of Industry City’s expansion, explaining that he doesn’t trust City Planning to accurately measure ensuing displacement and gentrification.
“We have a large burden as a community and as a city to think through some of that, otherwise it’s going to be developers running the show, being in the driver’s seat,” he added.
Taking things slowly and carefully this time around, he says, will play a part in ensuring past mistakes are not repeated.
“Every single rezoning has been difficult [and] has left a bad taste in communities’ mouths,” he explained. “That’s not what we deserve. … That’s not the only way to do rezonings and to do development in the city.”
By September, Menchaca says he and neighborhood advocates with whom he’s been consulting will come to a decision on whether or not they will begin a land use process or nix the buildout —an outcome Menchaca sounded warm to. He said a no-rezoning scenario is a “viable option” and that it presented “a lot of good possibilities for things to just keep growing” in Sunset Park, which he wants to keep a “walk-to-work neighborhood.”
“This isn’t the last time Sunset Park will be met with the forces of capitalism and greed that are hitting so many cities,” he said, “and we need to stay stronger.”