Brooklyn reps urge Council to vote down Industry City rezoning

industry city
About two dozen protesters rallied against the rezoning outside Industry City on Sept. 15.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Ten state and congressional representatives in Brooklyn signed onto a letter opposing the Industry City rezoning on Tuesday — just weeks before the City Council is set to vote on the controversial proposal.

The letter urges the Council to vote down the proposal and let the community decide the future of the southern Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront.

“Rather than cede leadership to a private developer forging ahead with their application, the City should take the initiative to reassess the economic environment, its manufacturing needs (particularly with the new mandates in recently passed climate acts), the needs of the local community for jobs, and the future of the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone,” wrote the leaders. 

The letter was signed by Congressmembers Nydia Velazquez, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerry Nadler, and Yvette Clarke and six state representatives: State Senators Zelnor Myrie and Julia Salazar, and Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon, Robert Carroll, Diana Richardson, and Latrice Walker. 

The Council plans to vote on the complex’s rezoning application sometime before mid-November. If the Council approves the land use change, Industry City’s owners will embark on a 12-year, $1 billion redevelopment of the sprawling campus that would add big box retail, academic space, and other uses prohibited under the current zoning. 

The private rezoning application — the largest in the city’s history — has sparked controversy since its announcement in 2015. Proponents argue that the redevelopment will bring manufacturing jobs to the working-class community, and critics countering that the revamped space will accelerate gentrification and produce only minimum wage retail jobs.

At a more than 9-hour Council hearing last week, Industry City executive Andrew Kimball emphasized that the renovations would allow developers to reactivate the old complex, expand the campus’ uses, and bring more than 20,000 jobs to the neighborhood. He also vowed to bend to Councilman Carlos Menchaca’s conditions by eliminating hotels from the redevelopment plan, creating a technical high school, and reserving a portion of jobs for Sunset Park residents, among other concessions

But Menchaca, who announced his opposition to the rezoning in July, said that there’s no way to enforce that Industry City’s owners see their promises through.

“Promises by major developers are broken every day,” he said. “With two months to go, there is no way to reach a level of accountability that my community demands and deserves.”

Despite the Council’s tradition of member deference on land use votes, three councilmen have voiced their support for the development, including Councilman Robert Corgengy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant), who told Gothamist 10 Council members signed a pro-Industry City letter he circulated. Three members, including Menchaca, have publicly announced their opposition to the plan. The application needs 26 votes to pass.

Lower level Sunset Park representatives have also questioned Industry City’s hiring projections.

“The bottom line is that all the information regarding Industry City’s workforce is proprietary, we don’t know how many jobs on the campus are new, we don’t have any comprehensive salary data or benefits data,” said John Santore, a newly-elected member of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s county committee. “I’ve tried to follow these for years in the community, and I don’t have answers to any of these questions.”

In their Sept. 22 letter, the Brooklyn lawmakers urged the City Council to vote in line with the community leaders, who have all voiced their opposition to the rezoning application. 

“Some in your body have announced their support for Industry City’s rezoning, despite the views of the local Council Member and the community. Unfortunately, they appear to have done so while knowing little about the countless hours of work undertaken by the Sunset Park community and Community Board to study and debate it,” the letter reads. “What the Sunset Park community has made clear is rezoning such a large portion of the waterfront for a single private actor is not in the best interests of the residents.”

Rather than bend to a private developer’s demands, the community should be able to drive their own vision of the sprawling campus’ future, the politicians argued.

“We are committed to ensuring that the local community can drive the process of what is in their best interest,” they wrote. “We urge you to support this community by respecting the decision of the local City Council Member who represents their interests, prioritize the well-being and livelihoods of the residents and small businesses, and refrain from moving forward with approving the project.”

A group of Industry City tenants blasted the lawmakers for opposing a plan that could deliver an economic boost to southern Brooklyn.

“Now, in the midst of an economic crisis, it is stunning that any elected official would oppose a project with a seven-year track record of creating more jobs and growing more small businesses than any other project in the City of New York,” said four business owners, including the owners of Lilac Chocolates and Sahadi’s, who have outposts in Industry City. “And to make believe that there has not been an enormous amount of community engagement is just wrong.  We know there has been, because we’ve been a part of it.  Perhaps they should have been as well.  The politicians should visit us now and see what they are opposing.”

This article has been updated to include a statement from Industry City’s tenants.