‘Fight for Flushing’ rally urges Queens lawmaker to reject waterfront proposal

File photo by Dean Moses

Over 80 Flushing residents and community leaders rallied on Saturday, Sept. 12, urging Councilman Peter Koo to oppose the redevelopment of the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD) proposal. 

Members of The MinKwon Center for Community Action, Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance (FADA) and Flushing for Equitable Development and Urban Planning (FED UP) were gathered in front of the Flushing Public Library at 41-17 Main St. 

A few residents spoke about their experiences with gentrification, the increase of rent prices, and the numerous small businesses closing in Flushing, while organizers translated their speeches in English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish.

With a police escort, the crowd chanted “Peter Koo, where are you? Peter Koo, shame on you!” and “Flushing not for sale” as they marched to the councilman’s office located at 135-27 38th Ave. 

Photo by Dean Moses

“Councilman Koo has two choices, do the right thing and vote against this rezoning proposal keeping his promise to the community, or continue being in the pocket of the developers,” said John Park, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action. “In 2016, when some of the same developers were attempting to rezone the same area, Councilman Peter Koo said the 60 percent AMI was too expensive for Flushing residents, and vowed he would not support a development proposal unless it was at 40 percent AMI. The current proposal carved out just over 3 percent of total units for affordable housing at 80 percent AMI, double the threshold.” 

Photo by Dean Moses

The SFWD proposal, created by a consortium of three developers under the name FWRA LLC, would transform the area of downtown Flushing by adding 1,725 new luxury condos, two new hotels and high-end retail establishments to the already overcrowded neighborhood with only 51 affordable units priced at 80 percent AMI, well above the price threshold for most current residents, according to the organizers.  

Despite social, economic, environmental and infrastructural concerns, Community Board 7 approved SFWD in a non-binding vote in February, according to the organizers. In March, Queens Borough President Sharon Lee declared a negative recommendation of SFWD due to community pressure before the city temporarily paused the ULURP process for all development projects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the SFWD proposal on Nov. 4, followed by a final vote from the New York City Council and the mayor. 

Meanwhile, the MinKwon Center along with the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Chhaya CDC, have filed a lawsuit against the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission, arguing that an environmental review must be conducted for the development proposal. 

“We believe that by not requiring the developers to conduct a full environmental impact and allow for community input, the city has fast tracked yet another project that will lead to more displacement, more overcrowding, and further contribute to the widening gap of wealth inequality that is splitting our city in two. We urge Councilman Koo to stop this process now by coming out against the plan,” said William Spisak, director of Housing Justice at Chhaya CDC. 

Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator at Guardians of Flushing Bay, said the SFWD proposal is yet another episode in an ongoing saga where equitable access to resources and environmental quality are not prioritized in downtown Flushing. 

“We ask that Councilman Koo, an advocate for open space and water quality, vote no on the SFWD. In addition to its insulting lack of affordable housing and public amenities, the proposal would add over 1,000 new sewer connections to the overburdened Flushing Creek sewershed without a proper environmental review,” Pryor said. “With the COVID-19 crisis still ongoing, this is neither the time nor the place to introduce a large-scale waterfront project without a robust and meaningful environmental review. This is the time to prioritize Flushing communities and our local ecology.”

According to the community leaders, Flushing is in need of affordable housing that reflects the AMI of its neighborhoods, more schools and senior/youth centers, jobs at prevailing wages and benefits, and more environmentally friendly community and green spaces. 

“While residents continue to grieve and suffer through the pandemic, the city assumes that now is an appropriate time to shove this luxury development down our throats, instead of focusing on providing relief to the community,” said Seonae Byeon, lead housing organizer at the MinKwon Center. “Participating in a virtual hearing during this crisis is simply out of reach for our low-income limited English proficiency senior residents, and only services to further squelch the community’s voices.”

In a statement to QNS, FWRA LLC said they’re standing with the community at large and for restarting an economy that continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“While attempts have been made to drown out the merits of this project by a small group of loud, misguided voices who repeatedly claim we are trying to privatize what is already private land, the Special Flushing Waterfront District developers are busy working to ensure that our community moves forward, not backwards,” FWRA LLC said. “In the end, it’s the hard-working people of Flushing that will be affected most if new jobs and significant tax revenues that fund civic works and programs are not created. The dissemination of misleading information from MinKwon and others doesn’t change what we are trying to accomplish.” 

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