Councilman Carlos Menchaca fled a town hall meeting Monday in the face of angry constituents, who booed the legislator for saying he’d approve a controversial Industry City rezoning scheme if executives bowed to a list of demands, and the Mayor’s office promised to invest in the community.
Industry City is seeking city permission to embark on a 12-year, $1 billion redevelopment of its sprawling manufacturing and retail campus. The expansion would add 1.45 million square feet of space, two hotels, department stores, and educational buildings to the 35-acre complex, but is currently prohibited under existing zoning regulations.
Local activists strongly oppose the project, which they fear would spur gentrification and displacement of the surrounding Latino and Asian communities, while supporters claim that the move could bring needed jobs and economic renewal.
Menchaca — whose vote as the local representative will sway City Council to either approve or reject Industry City’s application — tried to strike a middle ground during Monday’s meeting at Sunset Park High School. The Councilman argued that, while Industry City’s redevelopment may displace locals, the land-use-approval process gives residents an opportunity to set rules for the manufacturing complex.
But the legislator’s argument soundly failed to sway his constituents, who waved signs saying ‘No concessions!” and repeatedly drowned out Menchaca’s calls for compromise in a chorus of boos and chants, which prompted the legislator to flee the packed auditorium.
And so, Menchaca released his list of demands in a statement after the meeting. They include:
• Eliminating hotels from the application
• Reducing the amount of new retail space
• Providing space for a non-profit manufacturing business
• Creating a public technical high school
• Providing job training programs for locals
• Offering educational programs on tenants’ rights
• Funding for affordable housing
• Providing free lawyers for residents in Housing Court
Menchaca added that he would pass the rezoning only if the Mayor’s office commits in writing to provide funding for the high school, affordable housing, and tenant programs, in addition to forming a community association to oversee spending and sign a contract that would cement the agreement.
The councilman unveiled his list of demands after rejecting a rezoning application Industry City submitted in February, only to later pull it after Menchaca promised to kill the proposal if executives didn’t give him six months to mull it over. He now wants Industry City to conform their next application to reflect his demands, as opposed to working them in during the city’s roughly yearlong public-review process.
Activists responded to the legislator’s tacit support with outrage, claiming that Menchaca’s conditional acceptance of the rezoning goes against the will of his constituents, who want him to reject the proposal outright.
“Tonight, Menchaca confirmed he doesn’t stand with the more than 4,000 residents who signed our petition demanding he reject the rezoning with no concessions,” said Colleen Peabody-Diez, a local activist. “The Council Member has aligned himself with rich developers rather than the community.”
Menchaca claimed that he understands the activists’ concerns, and decided to leave the Monday’s meeting so that he didn’t have to speak over them.
“I was not able to finish the presentation, and that is okay,” he said in a statement. “It was completely understandable that many of my neighbors who are anxious, excited, fearful, or angry about what Industry City has and hasn’t done would want to make me aware of those feelings and make sure I got it.”
The future of the rezoning application, he added, is now in its developers’ hands.
“The ball is in Industry City’s court about whether we can partner in a way that benefits everyone,” said Mechaca, who added that he plans to send a letter about his recommendation on Tuesday, and he expects a response by Thursday.