Sunset Park’s councilman will vote down Industry City bigwigs’ requested rezoning of the commercial site if the complex’s owners do not delay the scheme’s public-review process by six months, he said.
Councilman Carlos Menchaca — who holds an outsize influence on the rezoning because the waterfront campus sits in his district — said Industry City bigwigs still need to prove the proposed upzoning would actually benefit the community, before their request can begin its lengthy journey through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
“I’m not sure that a rezoning is at all necessary right now, and that the burden of proof is not on us as a community — the burden of proof is on the private developer to make the case for this rezoning,” Menchaca said at a March 13 meeting of local Community Board 7.
The pol delivered his ultimatum days after Industry City leaders agreed to delay the rezoning, and weeks after they first submitted the request to the Department of City Planning in February.
That decision to delay came after Menchaca and CB7 Chairman Cesar Zuniga fired off a missive to Industry City Chief Executive Officer Andrew Kimball, urging him to hold off on initiating the public review for the billion-dollar plan, which if approved would over the next decade add more than 25 football fields’ worth of space — including a pair of hotels with more than 400 rooms — to the 30 acres the site already occupies between 30th–36th streets and Second and Third avenues.
The local leaders’ letter alleged that the board is not yet ready to officially weigh in on the scheme — which requires the panel to hold a public meeting about the proposal, vote on it, and then submit a purely advisory written recommendation to the City Planning Commission within 60 days of the agency’s certification of the rezoning application as part of the Ulurp process — because its members are in the midst of addressing “concerns about displacement and gentrification,” matters that would prevent them from voting on the rezoning within the required time frame.
Two days after Menchaca and Zuniga sent their letter to Kimball on March 6, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Sunset Park), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D–Red Hook), and state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D–Crown Heights), sent their own missive to Department of City Planning Director Marisa Lago on March 8, which echoed the demands of the councilman and CB7 leader. And later that day, Kimball and his fellow executives agreed to postpone the process, but did not say for how long.
Menchaca and CB7 leaders will use the six-month delay the pol demanded to hold five town halls on the proposal, during which they intend to:
• Review the findings from last summer’s series of board-sponsored town halls on waterfront development.
• Share the results of in-progress “community-based needs assessments” being conducted by academics from NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, Wagner College, and Hunter College, who are respectively studying health indicators, affordable housing, and education and employment indicators in the community.
• Study the city’s rezoning process in-depth with two urban planning experts.
• Review Menchaca’s own findings from the rezoning process.
The local leaders hope to conduct all five town halls by the end of the summer, and then begin a ten-week review period that would include three full-board meetings of CB7, and three more public hearings, before the civic gurus ultimately vote on the rezoning request in November.
And until then, Menchaca and Zuniga also want the board’s five individual committees to review specific parts of the rezoning application, and how it will affect local housing, economic development and employment, the environment, transportation and safety, and health and education.
Zuniga added that CB7 members may hire outside legal counsel to help the panel through the process. And he said that even though the proposed timeline may seem lengthy to some, it should allow for enough time to consider the issues that most concern community members — which the public review’s official 60-day process would not provide enough time for, he claimed.
“We heard very clearly that the community has grave concerns about affordability and about housing … but the system is rigged — the Ulurp process is meant to speed everything along, so that there is no time for us to have these kinds of conversations and to think long-term,” Zuniga said.
Industry City reps did not reply to inquiries about how long they plan to wait until beginning the rezoning’s public-review period, or when they planned to communicate their timeline to the community board and local pols. But a spokeswoman for the complex said that its heads would work with Menchaca to figure out how best to move forward in a way that would benefit locals.
“We look forward to working with Councilman Menchaca to further the common mission of creating economic opportunity for area residents,” Lisa Serbaniewicz said in a statement.