September 12, by Nathaly Pesantez
The city’s decision to appoint a for-profit developer to build 1,000 high-rise apartments on public land along the Long Island City waterfront was universally panned by residents at last week’s Community Board 2 meeting.
Earlier this summer, the city—through the Economic Development Corp– announced that it had selected TF Cornerstone, the Manhattan-based real estate firm, to develop a 4.5 acre site near 44th Drive and 5th Street. The project could bring 1,000 apartments, 400,000-square-feet of commercial space, and a school for 600 students at an estimated cost of $925 million. One-quarter of the apartments will be classified as “affordable.”
Residents who spoke at CB2’s monthly meeting in Sunnyside on Thursday said there was little need for more high-end, luxury towers in Hunters Point, especially when they’d be built on city-owned land by a for-profit developer.
“When I see this ridiculous idea of TF Cornerstone building on city-owned land, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this city is willfully ignoring the needs of low and middle-income people,” Nick Velkor, who founded Yoga Agora in Astoria in 2010, said at the meeting.
Several residents said the site should be converted into a park.
Diane Hendry, a member of the newly-formed LIC Coalition, brought a large print-out of the site that showed her proposal for a park and an environmental education center rather than the plans TF Cornerstone has in mind. Hendry told CB2 board members that developing a park at the site would add open space to the neighborhood and help shield the neighborhood from flooding, since the site sits within Hurricane Evacuation Zone 1, an area deemed most likely to flood during a storm.
“The city has an opportunity to preserve and build a new buffer to protect the community from flooding, and provide public green space desperately needed in this community,” Hendry said at the meeting.
Hendry requested that the EDC “start over” and do away with its “irresponsible” development plans. She created a petition last month opposing the development.
Residents also questioned why the EDC would want to use city-owned property for a development that would bring thousands of new people to the area and further stress infrastructure, and claimed that the trains, buses, and other services of the area are already struggling to keep up with the existing population.
Vincent Pitaro, a decades-long LIC resident who lives one block away from the development site, said that the subway—whether it be the 7, N, and E train–is delayed on an almost daily basis and is usually at full capacity when trains stop at stations in the area.
The area needs to be rezoned before development on the site can go forward, since it is currently an industrial zone. Rezoning requires a public process, which includes passing the city council. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer would have the final say on rezoning.
The EDC issued a Request for Proposals more than a year ago for the city-owned waterfront site, where specific requirements for developers to follow were made publicly available, and included plans for a school, office space, and public access to the waterfront. The EDC also said up to 1,000 residences would be created at the site.
In spite of this, many residents complained that the selection of TF Cornerstone and the proposal for the site came out of nowhere.
“Everyone feels blindsided,” Hendry said. “There’s no transparency at all.”
Lisa Deller, head of the CB2’s Land Use committee, said the EDC regularly gives briefings that compare plans submitted by a variety of developers after an RFP is issued, but was surprised when the EDC did not respond to its request for a briefing made months prior to TF Cornerstone’s selection.
“What they have told us is the reason they do it behind closed doors is it would jeopardize their negotiations with developers,” Deller said at the meeting.
Deller recognizes that there’s a lack of open space in Long Island City and understands resident frustrations with the city choosing to develop market-rate apartments on its land rather than adding park space.
“What we’ve always said to the EDC is that these are among the last city-owned sites in our community, and it’s a scarce resource,” Deller said. “The more development that goes on here, the more precious the city-owned sites are.”
Some residents said they felt powerless and that their opinion would not be heard.
“What’s frightening is that the word in the community is that this project is a done deal,” Pitaro said.
Denise Keehan Smith, chairwoman of CB2, was quick to respond. “It’s not a done deal at all.”