Residents, leaders weigh in on Flushing waterfront project

By Madina Toure

At a lively town hall meeting last week, the Department of City Planning fielded questions from Flushing residents and community and business leaders on plans to revitalize the waterfront.

The meeting, held at Flushing Town Hall at 137-35 Northern Blvd., featured a presentation by Joy Chen, the project’s manager, outlining the Flushing Riverfront project, which would clean up and rezone 60 acres on the Flushing waterfront.

The project seeks to create a planned community with waterfront access and housing and commercial space. Translations were provided in Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean.

“We want to make sure we have a good understanding of what’s going on in Flushing,” said John Young, director of City Planning’s Queens office.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said neighborhood residents should be grateful that the city is focusing on the area, which is beset by a lack of affordable housing, overburdened streets and No. 7 train delays.

“We want to make sure this is a permanent place for people to live,” Koo said.

In 2011, the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation—headed by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman—received a $1.5 million New York State Brownfield Opportunity Grant to fund the project. City Planning decided to combine the corporation’s project with its housing study of western Flushing as part of the city’s affordable housing agenda.

The study area covers Prince Street to Flushing Creek on the west, Roosevelt Avenue on the south and Northern Boulevard on the north.

Three-quarters of the study area is zoned C4-2 for a commercial and residential zone. The northern portion of the study has M1-1 zoning, light manufacturing, and the northern portion along the waterfront is zoned M3-1, or heavier manufacturing.

In 1998, the waterfront area was largely rezoned to allow for mixed uses, including commercial and residential uses. In 2004, the city Economic Development Corporation, City Planning and the Downtown Flushing Consultant team released the Downtown Flushing Development Framework.

During the Bloomberg’s administration, City Planning rezoned East Flushing in 2005 and North Flushing, in 2009.

“Development on the waterfront has really stalled,” said Chen, who works for City Planning

A spokesman for City Planning said factors such as the economy, zoning and how land owners used space impeded development of the waterfront.

Attendees asked questions about the lack of publicity about the project, airplane noise, affordable housing, green spaces and cleaning up Flushing Creek.

Queens activist and filmmaker Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone resident, questioned City Planning for its alleged failure to disclose that Shulman’s local development corporation was seeking to subcontract City Planning and pay the agency $800,000 from the Brownfield grant the corporation received.

“Why have you not disclosed that there’s a financial transaction between Claire Shulman’s LDC, which its constituent members own probably a third or half of the property that’s at issue here, that they would like to rezone?” LoScalzo asked.

Young said the agency has done similar work with other local development corporations throughout the city.

“This is not a unique situation that the LDC in this community sought to have the state fund a planning study and then brought in the city to participate and do that work,” Young said.

Grace Shim, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, a Flushing-based nonprofit, came to the town hall with community members. They stood up, holding posters with slogans such as “Economic Opportunities for Local Residents & Good Jobs.”

Shim commended the agency for hosting the town hall but stressed the need for an anti-displacement policy.

“We want strong and effective policies to prevent displacement of local residents and small businesses prior to any rezoning,” Shim said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.