By Bill Parry
Hundreds of Long Island City residents and business owners rallied with community leaders and elected officials Saturday against the city’s plan to develop two plots of publicly owned waterfront property on 44th Drive and a neighboring Department of Education building on Vernon Boulevard.
The proposal, announced in 2016, would turn the city-owned lots into commercial space, luxury apartments and a school, but the community has other ideas that are not being heard by the de Blasio administration.
“With the critical lack of infrastructure in the area, from schools to transportation to senior centers, the fact that the city would try to sell precious public neighborhood land to private developers shows their shortsightedness and lack of understanding of the needs of the neighborhood,” Hunters Point Civic Association President Brent O’Leary said. “I am proud of our neighborhood for standing up to the city and saying our neighborhood will not be sold off. If you want to develop community land, it is the community who should be deciding how that best helps the neighborhood not outside interests.”
The rally was organized by the group Coalition LIC whose online petition has over 1,000 signatures and would prefer the waterfront lots be turned into parkland with wetlands that would afford climate protection in a flood zone. The coalition wants the DOE building turned into a school with a community recreation center, artist and light manufacturing space, a cultural center, a climate change educational center and job training.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has watched for years as private developers built luxury towers and the city was slow to keep up with the area’s unprecedented growth.
“When they first started plopping these buildings down in our neighborhood, there either was no plan or the plan stunk,” Gianaris said. “This has got to stop.”
State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) called the city’s current proposal unacceptable.
“Developing this area would be irresponsible at this time. Prior development has not respected the strain these massive buildings put on our current infrastructure,” Nolan said. “The area is also in a flood zone, and may lead to serious consequences during future storms. This property is city-owned; any plans for the future of this community must include the community itself, and must include ideas and alternatives that come directly from residents. Schools, parkland, green space and community centers are many possibilities that I have heard, and the city has a great opportunity to make good on these wonderful ideas.”
The New York City Economic Development Corporation, which issued the Request for Proposals on the parcels, says the project includes a 600-seat school, space for workforce development and career training and office space for start-ups and fast-growing companies in the tech, arts, design and creative industries in addition to at least 1,000 residential units with 25 percent affordable housing.
“We’re proud that this project will build on Long Island City’s industrial heritage with space for new industrial jobs and workforce training, as well as hundreds of affordable apartment, a 600-seat school, and more than an acre of resilient waterfront open space,” EDC spokeswoman Shavone Williams said. “We look forward to continued discussions with community members in the months ahead, as we look for ideas on how to make this great project even better.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who could sway the vote on any rezoning effort as the Council always votes along with the representative of the district, met with the mayor’s office and the EDC last week.
“I told them that this plan, as proposed, is dead on arrival,” Van Bramer said. “If it comes to me as your city councilman, I am telling them and I am telling you, this will never happen.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr