More than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the home of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday to urge the pol to shut down the controversial Industry City rezoning in Sunset Park — one week before the Council’s scheduled public hearing on the proposal.
“People shared why they felt that these rezonings are racist, what they’ve seen happen in different parts of the city,” said Jorge Muniz-Reyes, who helped organize the protest with the community activist group Protect Sunset Park. “People want people like Corey Johnson to say no to this private plan, and people want to know what kind of public plan could be put on the table.”
The industrial complex’s owners — which consists of a partnership between Jamestown Properties, Belvedere Capital, and Angelo Gordon & Co — are seeking to rezone the 35-acre campus to pave the way for a $1 billion redevelopment that would add hotels, retail, and office space to the waterfront space.
The plan has infuriated many locals, who argue that redevelopment seeks to attract glitzy businesses that will drive up rents and price out Sunset Park’s largely immigrant and working-class population.
Industry City executive Andrew Kimball submitted a rezoning application to the city in October of 2019 — kicking off the land use approval process known as ULURP that moved the application through the community board and the borough president’s office for advisory opinions, and a review by the City Planning Commission. The Council will have the final say on the proposed rezoning in a vote sometime before Nov. 4.
Industry City developers considered scrapping the application in July when local Councilman Carlos Menchaca vowed to vote down the application. Menchaca’s no vote would usually doom the application’s passage — since Council members tend to vote with local representatives on rezoning applications in their districts according to a longstanding tradition — but several council members have broken with that unwritten rule, and have spoken out in support of the Industry City rezoning.
The Council will hold a public hearing on Sept. 15 about the Industry City rezoning application — and protesters at Monday’s rally are urging Council Speaker Johnson to vote no.
“The specific demand was to stop this rezoning, which he has the ability to do,” said Muniz-Reyes, adding that Johnson has had a hand in pushing the rezoning application forward. “He’s the one moving forward and calendaring hearings for this waterfront plan.”
The demonstration — which was organized by nearly two dozen community organizations including Sunset Park Popular Assembly, Sunset Park Organized Neighbors, and New York Communities For Change — began inside of Chelsea Market in Manhattan, which Jamestown Properties redeveloped and sold to Google in 2018. Protesters then traveled up to W. 15th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, where Johnson allegedly lives.
Outside the home, attendees hung a banner, wrote messages to Johnson in chalk, and urged the councilman to stop a host of private rezonings across the city.
“Communities should control our city’s future, not corporations,” said Vanessa Thill with Art Against Displacement, a group based in Chinatown and the Lower East Side in favor of a community-led rezoning that would mitigate gentrification. “Artists don’t cause gentrification, it’s racist decisions made at City Hall that sees working people as replaceable so that corporations can advance their private agenda while the public suffers.”
Industry City supporters have claimed that the redevelopment will bring jobs that are particularly needed as the COVID-19 pandemic causes unemployment to soar. But Muniz-Reyes charged that the types of jobs offered at the redeveloped complex — which would most likely include more offices, hotels, and retail — are not suited to the city’s post-pandemic reality.
“There’s a fundamental business component to this whole thing that doesn’t add up,” he said. “They would create temporary pop up jobs, that’s what it would create.”
Rather than focusing just on the private rezoning plans, local stakeholders have pushed the city to propose their own public rezoning plans for the Sunset Park waterfront, such as Uprose’s The Grid, which would turn Industry City into a space for green industrial manufacturing that would create sources of renewable energy.
Two days after the protest, the Department of City Planning announced a series of public workshops to gather input on the city’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which will reexamine how to utilize the more than 500 miles of shorefront across the city.
“The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan gives every New Yorker a once-in-a-decade opportunity to craft a holistic vision for our city’s beautiful 520-mile-long waterfront,” said Director Marisa Lago. “The discussions that we’re having with New Yorkers about our shoreline are invaluable, covering equity of access to jobs and open space, the health of our waterways, our resiliency to climate change and more.”
Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.