Locals sound off on Industry City rezoning at 11-hour City Council hearing

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About two dozen local community members gathered in D’Emic Playground in Sunset Park on Sept. 15 to denounce Industry City’s rezoning application.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Dozens of locals clashed at an 11-hour City Council hearing about the controversial Industry City rezoning on Tuesday — with proponents arguing that the development will bring needed jobs, and critics calling for increased transparency about the project.

“My colleagues are asking questions that you can’t answer,” local Councilman Carlos Menchaca told Industry City executive Andrew Kimball at the virtual hearing. “My colleagues are asking for things that they want to see as well, but it is the community that will hold you accountable.” 

The Sept. 15 City Council hearing comes less than two months before the Council votes on the rezoning application, effectively bringing the land use approval procedure, known as ULURP, to a close.

If passed, the rezoning would allow developers to embark on a 12-year, $1 billion renovation of the sprawling, 35-acre campus that would add retail and academic space. The proposal, first made public in 2015, is the largest private rezoning application in New York City history.

Kimball opened Tuesday’s hearing by emphasizing the thousands of jobs and the many benefits developers have promised to the community, such as the creation of a local technical high school, a reduction in retail space, and the promise that many of the jobs will go to Sunset Park residents. Industry City already has a track record of working with the community as the neighborhood’s largest employer, Kimball argued, adding that 20 percent of Sunset Park residents work at the complex. 

But Menchaca charged that there is no binding framework to ensure Industry City’s owners see those 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.”

Menchaca vowed to vote down the rezoning in July after locals and Industry City leaders failed to finalize a legally-binding community benefits agreement and the mayor never promised funding for the community — two of Menchaca’s conditions for approving the plan.

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. 

More than 200 people signed up to testify to at Tuesday’s hearing, including Industry City tenants who reaffirmed their support for the developers’ vision.

“I truly believe we could not have sustained our business in New York City if not for our residence in Industry City,” said Jennifer Dundas, the founder of the ice cream company Blue Marble, which has operated a warehouse and production space since 2011. 

Critics echoed Menchaca’s concern that the developers won’t be held accountable for the promised community benefits, and said that the redevelopment will draw glitzy corporations that will drive up rents and offer low-paying, menial jobs to locals.

“Rents are going to skyrocket and people will be displaced … I do not understand how many examples we need to see of this throughout the city to finally believe in it,” said Jacqui Painter from Red Hook. “As we heard today, there’s no proof of these so-called 20,000, 7,000 jobs.” 

A small group of activists expressed their opposition to the rezoning proposal at a rally by Industry City on Tuesday morning. 

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About two dozen protesters rallied against the rezoning outside Industry City on Tuesday morning.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“This plan is not a plan that will benefit our community,” said Sunset Park local Antoinette Martinez. “We need the City Council to stand with us and to make sure they know that this community is 100 percent against the rezoning that Industry City is trying to propose.” 

Another speaker lamented that many Sunset Park residents wouldn’t be able to testify at the hearing, since people who signed up were not given times slots, meaning they would have to sit through more than nine hours of hearing on a weekday to wait for their turn to speak.

“I just got an email — I’m supposed to testify — and my email says, basically, ‘If you want to testify, just get on Zoom at around 1o o’clock, and please be patient because we can’t tell you when you’re going to testify, and you might have to stay on until this evening,” said Elena Schwolsky, a Sunset Park homeowner. “I don’t call that public, I don’t call that accessible.”