Public review of major Flushing Waterfront Development set to resume next week

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Rendering courtesy of FWRA LLC

After a five-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Planning Commission is set to resume the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) hearing on the controversial Special Flushing Waterfront Development proposal on Wednesday, Sept. 16. 

The Flushing Waterfront Development would include nine buildings in the area enclosed by 36th Avenue to the north, College Point Boulevard to the east, Roosevelt Avenue to the south, and the Flushing Creek to the west.

The application was prepared by FWRA LLC, a joint partnership of the three major developers — F&T Group, United Construction & Development Group Inc. and Young Nian Group — who own plots in the area. 

The developers, who have deep-rooted connections in Flushing and have been active members of the community for decades, say the project would involve over $1 billion in private investment, and would generate $28 million in tax revenue. 

The proposal seeks to revitalize 29 acres of inactive and underutilized land that the developers say will provide substantial public benefits such as a privately funded and maintained road network and a 160,000-square-foot waterfront promenade along Flushing Creek that will both be publicly accessible. 

The plan also includes 1,725 residential units, including affordable housing, 879 hotel keys, office and community facilities, retail space and parking spaces to help alleviate traffic along College Point Boulevard. 

‘No fences or gates’

According to William Xu, vice president of United Construction & Development Group Inc., the waterfront will be 100 percent open to the public. 

“We are building it and funding it — there are no fences or gates,” Xu said. “Flushing is an area that doesn’t really have open parks and space that the public can enjoy and we are voluntarily increasing that for them. For the people that are opposing this project, I really encourage them to take a deep dive and look at everything that we are doing.”  

The project has been met with some opposition and criticism from community leaders, organizers and residents, but Community Board 7 approved the rezoning plan in February. Meanwhile, acting Borough President Sharon Lee rejected the plan in March, citing the scale and scope of the project that will significantly change the landscape of downtown Flushing. 

The developers, however, say there are extensive legal protocols in place to obtain a land use approval and will continue to follow each and every one of them.  

Additionally, the required Environmental Assessment Statement was completed and the study is available via public record, according to the developers. The development will provide environmental relief to the Flushing Creek by providing upgrades to the existing sewer and storm water drainage systems and a large-scale removal of contaminated soils.

According to Xu, the Flushing Waterfront project will create thousands of jobs and give the community the economic lift it needs to recover, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Xu estimates that there will be between 500 to 558 construction workers on-site per day, and 3,000 permanent jobs post-construction including hotel workers, maintenance workers for the private roads, as well as commercial and retail space. 

As for affordable housing, only the northern area of the Special District will be required to provide affordable housing. There will be 75-90 units under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) Program, according to Richard Siu, chief investment officer of F&T Group. 

John Liang, president of Young Nian Group, said the project will provide upgraded housing for everyday people.

“This is not for the super rich. We are not filling super luxury apartments like Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn,” Liang said. “This is a place for a starter family with a kid or a young couple starting their career that can actually afford an apartment in New York City.”

According to Liang, he doesn’t understand why people are against the project due to the fact that there are many benefits to the community and to the people that live and work in Flushing. 

Not affordable enough?

On the other hand, opponents of the development, such as the MinKwon Community Center in Flushing, say the rezoning of the waterfront will exponentially speed up the process of gentrification and displacement. 

“Their current plan is to have 61 affordable housing units at 80 percent area median income (AMI) which is about $85K for a family of four, when the income for Flushing residents is between $11k to $40K — it’s not affordable to our community at all,” said Seonae Byeon, organizer at the MinKwon Community Center. 

The MinKwon Center for Community Action 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. 

According to Byeon, the developers instead created an Environmental Assessment Study (EAS), that does not include the community’s input or the impact of the project they say will be detrimental to the environment. 

William Spiask, director of Housing Justice at the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, said the project is “concerning and deeply alarming” and claims to be meeting the needs of the developers rather than those of the community. 

“They found ways to inflate the buildable density of the project out of right in that document, and they found a way to hide some of the potential development that they would be able to do if they get the rezoning and special district designation,” Spiask said. 

Spiask said the construction of a hospital, community center, green space or even a school should be prioritized instead of a “capital-driven, profit-driven” development that “falls flat across the board.”

Sarah Ahn, director of the Flushing Workers Center, said they should look at Flushing as a whole, citing the existing luxury condominiums in the community that ranks second in the city behind Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  

“We need our elected officials to actually fight on behalf of their constituents to say that we don’t need any more of these condos — it’s making all of our rents expensive, it’s bringing so much speculation into Flushing and why our small businesses are closing,” Ahn said. 

As the ULURP hearing is near approaching, the community leaders are demanding that the city halt the virtual meeting. 

“According to the Comptroller’s report, 41 percent of Flushing residents do not have internet access, and they’re making a sudden move to have a public hearing on a virtual platform that a lot of people are not familiar with,” Byeon said. “There is not enough time or training for people on how to be online and participate.” 

John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, is urging community members to join the coalition at the City Planning Commission hearing on Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. to testify or submit their comments online against the Special Flushing Waterfront District.

“Our community is in crisis, two-thirds of our restaurants are expected to close by the end of this year and 10,000 residents line up at La Jornada food pantry every week suffering from mass unemployment, unable to pay their rent or feed their families,” Choe said. “Instead of addressing these critical issues, Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to push through large-scale luxury development projects like the Special Waterfront District, which is expected to exacerbate our crisis and displace local residents and business owners.”