Queens Community Board 2 seeks more answers from city and state regarding Amazon HQ2 plan

Vice Chair Lisa Ann Deller speaks to other Community Board 2 members during the Jan.3. meeting.
Vice Chair Lisa Ann Deller speaks to other Community Board 2 members during the Jan. 3 meeting.

Community Board 2 will send a letter to elected officials citing concerns about Amazon’s impending arrival to Long Island City.

Vice Chair Lisa Ann Deller read the letter aloud during this year’s first Community Board 2 meeting on Jan. 3 in Sunnyside, where Amazon’s second headquarters plan was again the main topic of conversation. The arrival of the online retail giant was brought up by 29 people during the meeting.

“Accordingly, there’s insufficient available information for CB 2 to either embrace or oppose it and this letter is not intended to express or suggest any ultimate position that may be taken by CB 2,” Deller read from the letter, which will be sent to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD), the Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and local elected officials.

According to the letter, too little is known about Amazon’s arrival to LIC for the advisory body to take a stance for or against the HQ2 proposal. What is known is that there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), an agreement between the city, state and Amazon — but the letter expresses concerns over apparent inconsistencies in the MOU concerning geographic area and community benefits.

“The eastern edge of Anable Basin on Vernon Boulevard formally considered part of the comprehensive planning area [and] considered as a gateway to the continuous waterfront access plan is now excluded from the GPP,” as noted in the letter. A General Project Plan (GPP) is a controversial land use procedure that allows for input from the local community board and modifications or approval from the City Planning Commission with the ESD getting the final say over the plan. The state plans on circumventing the city rezoning process by using a GPP which was also used to develop Atlantic Yards and Moynihan Station, according to reporting from Commercial Observer

During talks with the ESD and NYCEDC, CB 2 members had been told that both locations would be used by Amazon, according to Deller. 

The letter continues on to state that its sole intention is to express concerns that the city’s ULURP process had been bypassed while the deal was made, along with “aspects of the plan itself.” CB 2 states in the letter that the Land Use Committee must review, vet and finalize different aspects of Amazon’s plan to open up shop in LIC before they can vote on a consensus position.

Board member Jeremy Rosenberg called for the letter to be amended to include concerns about the character of Amazon as a company, specifically with regard to displacement of low-income and middle-class residents and Amazon’s involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The advisory body agreed to add a sentence, quickly written by board member Sally Frank during the meeting, expressing its awareness “community concerns about Amazon’s business relationship with ICE, significant displacement and the proposed tax subsidies.”

Although time was spent discussing the wording of the letter, all of CB 2 members agreed that the purpose of the letter was to say that they would be there, whether the city and state liked it or not, to give a voice to the LIC community.

The majority of public speakers expressed opposition to Amazon’s arrival. Among the speakers was President of the Dutch Kills Civic Association Tony Benetatos, who said that he had been recruited by the city’s Economic Development Corporation to speak at the CB 2 meeting in favor of the Amazon project, but “after consultation with our board and membership, I find I can no longer do so.”

Benetatos, on behalf of the Dutch Kills civic, instead called upon “all parties involved to reject the Amazon deal until these underlying community issues are resolved in a written, binding contract between the people and Amazon.”

Board 2 Chairperson Denise Keehan Smith further announced that an Amazon town hall meeting will most likely take place at some point during the first two weeks of February.

Click here to watch the meeting in full and hear the entire letter.

Editor’s note: An earlier version incorrectly stated that Benetatos had “announced his departure from the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) as an act of protest.” On Twitter, after this article was first published on Jan. 7, he wrote, “I have not given up my seat at the Amazon community advisory board and look forward to advancing the concerns cited at the CB2 meeting as the deal is evolved.” We apologize for the error and regret any confusion which may have resulted.