In a explosive meeting last night, in which Sunset Park community members continually interrupted with shouts of “No rezoning, no conditions,” City Council Member Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) maintained that going into negotiations with Industry City was the only way to provide the community the leverage it would need to fight against gentrification on the Sunset Park waterfront.
Menchaca called for the meeting, held at Sunset Park High School, to address his views on the privately-owned Industry City’s rezoning proposal to add to its exiting 16-building 35-acre non-residential mixed-use development on the Sunset Park waterfront stretching from 33rd and 37th street, and between Second and Third Avenues.
The rezoning proposal calls for Industry City to expand to accommodate up to 900,000 square feet of retail space, build two hotels totaling 275,000 square feet, use 600,000 square feet for academic classrooms, and develop up to 1.3 million square feet of additional commercial space.
Industry City had hoped to formally apply for the rezoning through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), but delayed the application at the request of Menchaca and the local community board to further study both the proposal and uses for the long dilapidated waterfront.
Menchaca, while addressing and echoing some of the attendees increasingly vocal concerns, did submit some key changes to the rezoning plan if he were to sign on to it moving forward.
The changes included the removal of the hotels from the expansion plan, guaranteeing a percentage of created jobs to go to Sunset Park residents, limiting the amount of space that they are able to use for retail, and granting legal protections to the current tenants of Sunset Park are some of the key changes Menchaca wants to see made.
Menchaca also called upon the mayor’s office to commit to investing in Sunset Park in the form of funding affordable housing and a technical school for high schoolers and adults. He expressed his hopes that his office and the mayor’s could continue to negotiate with Industry City to push these and other ideas forward, but stated that they must come to an agreement before the rezoning application can go through ULURP, a system he described as “broken.”
Many of those in attendance, however, remained unconvinced that negotiating with Industry City on the rezoning was the way to go.
“Those same kids that you are talking about aren’t going to be able to live here anymore if you keep doing this,” one woman shouted over Menchaca’s announcements. “Industry City is not our neighbor.”
Members of local organizations UPROSE and POWWA, stood in defiance at Menchaca’s plan holding flags. “The people who live in this community want no rezoning,” called the protestors from these groups — “No se vende. We are not for sale!”
An hour into sharing his readjusted vision for the area, Menchaca conceded the stage as the sustained roar of dissidents grew too large for him to be heard.
But other members of the community in Sunset Park are more welcoming to the changes and proposed expansion of Industry City. A large, but quieter presence at the meeting was a group of union construction workers and local business owners, who see Industry City’s continued investment in the area as one that has the potential to create jobs and opportunity for everyone in the area.
“We live here. We’re ready to work, we’re able to work, but all of this just holds us back,” said one of these workers.
Andrew Kimball, the CEO of Industry City agreed, stating that Industry City feels really good about the progress made over the last six years, going from 1,900 jobs to 8,000 – the equivalent of a hundred new jobs every month.
“We’re also feeling very good about the positive conversations that have been happening with the community board and Carlos Menchaca’s advisory committee. We’re hopeful, but there’s a lot of small businesses and individuals who are benefitting from those small businesses who can’t wait. They need progress to continue,” said Kimball.
After Menchaca’s announcement that the delay to submit the application for rezoning will continue, those who are waiting have to keep waiting, while some portions of the community keep fighting back.