Dueling protests were held on Tuesday, Nov. 17, as groups of supporters and opponents of the Special Flushing Waterfront District (SFWD) voiced their concerns before the City Council Subcommittee vote on the rezoning application.
Tenants, workers, small business owners and elected officials were gathered outside by Starside Drugs, located at 136-36 39th Ave. in Flushing, to discuss the damages they believe will occur if the City Council votes in favor of the application.
Opponents of the SFWD include the MinKwon Center, Flushing Workers, Flushing Bay Alliance, Chhaya CDC and the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. They’re demanding that Councilman Peter Koo — who expressed strong support for the SFWD rezoning during the City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee public hearing on Nov. 9 — oppose the plan.
“We’re here because Councilman Peter Koo has failed us. Flushing is being actively gentrified and Councilman Koo is siding with developers for more displacement, congestion and pollution,” an organizer said.
Meanwhile, across the street, counterprotesters were wearing hard hats, appearing as if they had come directly from a construction site, repeatedly chanting, “Peter Koo.”
“Flushing has had so much positive progress because Council member Koo supports small businesses,” said George Xu, founder of Century Development Group, an integrated real estate development company.
Xu, who is the brother of one of the three developers of the project, said construction companies and small businesses are the reason why Flushing has come a long way.
“We need to keep supporting construction, development and small businesses, and Council member Koo, so that we can continue to move Flushing forward,” Xu said.
The three developers behind the Special Flushing Waterfront Development include F&T Group, United Construction & Development Group and Young Nian Group, known collectively as FWRA LLC.
The SFWD 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.
“Those who oppose the Special Flushing Waterfront District claim to want to see Flushing thrive. However, they have no plan or means to bring Flushing the jobs, affordable housing and public space they want,” the developers said in a statement to QNS. “As evidenced on social media, many who oppose this project are not even from Flushing, but rather from other neighborhoods in NYC such as Sunnyside, Woodside and Brooklyn. They are woefully misinformed – the issues they are protesting are exactly the problems the SFWD will solve.”
According to the developers, they have heard from hundreds of residents, community organizations and business owners, who want to see the project succeed for the benefit of the community. They have garnered the support of City Council Hearing speakers, more than 300 letters written to the Council in favor of the project, and an overwhelmingly positive vote from Community Board 7 and the City Planning Commission.
While opponents of the SFWD claimed that the counterprotesters were paid to attend the rally, the developers said it is “entirely false and that all who attended were there of their own accord.”
“As for the protest itself, it is despicable to intentionally cause harm to a small business like Council member Koo’s, particularly to a neighborhood pharmacy which aids the elderly and sick in our community, and particularly now when Flushing’s businesses need only unwavering support,” the developers said. “Our project aims to support small businesses and it seems the opposition is determined to rob Flushing of that opportunity.”
Opponents of the SFWD are receiving support from City Council members, such as Councilman Carlos Menchacha, who fought back against the Industry City rezoning in Sunset Park.
“Sunset Park is with you every single way because we just fought our own battle. You heard about Industry City, and just like John said, this rezoning will come crashing down in flames,” said Councilman Carlos Menchacha. “Industry City went down crashing in flames. How did that happen? Because community came together and all its power and solidarity, and I am seeing it here, will bring it down in flames. Protect Flushing!”
During the rally, Hailie Kim, who is running to represent City Council District 26, recalled the development of the Long Island City towers.
“When I started school, I saw the towers in Long Island City start to go up, and the rents went up with them. One by one, all of the kids I went to elementary school came up to me and told me, ‘My mom and dad can’t afford to live in Sunnyside anymore, so we have to move away,’” Kim said. “It’s really disturbing to watch the same patterns unfold here in Flushing today.”
Tiffany Cabán, who is running to represent City Council District 22, is calling for a “No” vote on the Flushing rezoning.
“This corporate redevelopment project is going to displace working class immigrant families in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic in a community that is experiencing the racial and economic disparities disproportionately, quite honestly, than other parts of our city,” Cabán said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Councilman Francisco Moya, chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, issued a joint statement signed by 11 Council members saying that approving the rezoning as it currently stands would be a “grave mistake.”
“We believe that it would be irresponsible to approve the application without deep community benefits like real affordable housing and commitments to provide good jobs for local community members,” the Council said. “The ongoing economic crisis fueled by a global pandemic continues to strain Flushing as community members face xenophobic backlash, housing instability and unemployment — all with the looming and constant threat of illness. This year has forced us to examine the needs of our working class communities in a deeper and more holistic way.”