Industrial sabotage: Borough President storms out of hearing about Industry City rezoning

industry city rezoning
Taking a stand: Protesters against the Industry City rezoning stood with their backs to Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball during a Jan. 14 hearing on the scheme.
Photo by Rose Adams

Borough President Eric Adams abruptly shut down a public hearing about the controversial Industry City rezoning on Tuesday night after a group of protesters started chanting in opposition to the scheme. 

The hearing — where Adams solicited public testimony about the hotly debated rezoning application — drew hundreds of interested Brooklynites to Borough Hall, where attendees took turns speaking about the proposed rezoning and redevelopment of the 32-acre, Sunset Park complex. But just one hour after the event kicked off, Adams ended the meeting and stormed out of the room after protesters began chanting. 

“We’re closing the hearing,” Adams said before leaving the hall, amid chants directed at the Sunset Park Councilman Carlos Menchaca, repeating, “What side are you on, Carlos?” 

I wanted to post this video quickly to set the record straight about what happened tonight at Eric Adams IC Rezoning hearing. First of all, Eric Adams was looking to shut this hearing down almost from the beginning. I don't think he had any interest in actually listening to the majority of people there that were against the rezoning. You can see the bored look on his face throughout the hearing from many photos from the hearing. Everyone in the room was actually shocked he just stopped the meeting after a little chanting. You can see in the video several people go up asking Eric Adams to continue the hearing. There was really no real disruption. To put it bluntly Eric Adams denied the Sunset Park community the opportunity to speak. I was again signed up to speak and frankly am getting tired of elected officials walking out of public hearings and then spinning some story about "crazy disruptions". It's elected officials not listening to the community or upset they can't police the community and control what the Sunset Park community has to say. It’s elected officials hiding behind their power and a failed ULURP process. Here's the full video of end of hearing including the great testimony from Sunset park resident Giselle Jimenez that happened right before Adam's just randomly stopped the hearing.

Posted by Jeremy Kaplan on Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The public meeting comes one month before Adams is set to submit his recommendations for the rezoning plan as part of the city’s seven-month land use review procedure. If approved, the rezoning application would allow Industry City’s CEO, Andrew Kimball, to develop 1-million square-feet of space at the complex, adding big-box retail, offices, academic spaces, hotels, and other amenities as part of a $1-billion redevelopment of the manufacturing hub. 

Supporters claim that the plan would bring needed jobs, while many community groups have waged an enduring and passionate opposition to the plan, arguing that the redevelopment will drive up rents and displace Sunset Park’s working-class, immigrant community.

Activists have shut down previous meetings on the rezoning — including a September town hall hosted by Menchaca to discuss the scheme — by waving signs and drowning out opposing speakers with bellowing chants. The Tuesday night meeting was tame by comparison, with protestors standing with their backs to Andrew Kimball as he spoke, shouting “time,” when an opposing speaker’s two minutes ran out, and beginning several brief chants against the rezoning. 

Still, the protest tactics proved too much for Adams, who rebuked the audience for disrupting the hearing. When protesters shouted, “time” at a supporter of the complex who exceeded her two-minute testimony, Adams told the hecklers that he would enforce the time limit, and later, when protesters began an anti-Industry City chant, Adams repeated, “I guess we don’t hear more testimony,” until the crowd quieted down. 

It was the protesters’ second chant that pushed the beep over the edge, prompting him to shut down the hearing hours before it would have ended, frustrating some attendees. 

“I think he overreacted to that,” said Sunset Parker Eric Fretz, who opposes the rezoning. “They didn’t need to shut down the hearing. They could’ve let people chant for a little while and come back.”

A representative for Adams argued that the protesters’ behavior was out of line and that Adams has issued several warnings before closing the meeting down.

“It is one thing to protest a proposed land use action. It’s another to protest your neighbor’s right to voice their opinion in a respectful manner,” said Jonah Allen, Adams’ press secretary. “After four warnings and multiple disruptions, the Borough President decided to end the hearing.” 

The rezoning fight will continue on Wednesday night, when the community board will vote on their recommendations on the rezoning. While strictly advisory, the community board’s stance may influence Councilman Menchaca, who holds outsize power over the application since the complex sits in his district. He has previously vowed to vote down the rezoning when it reaches City Council for a vote.

To submit comments about the Industry City rezoning, email the Borough President’s office at [email protected]