Nov. 29, 2017 By Christian Murray
Representatives of the Economic Development Corp. and TF Cornerstone came under fire at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting earlier this month about their plan to build 1,000 residential units along with commercial space on two city-owned lots where 44th Drive meets the East River.
The development, which stems from the EDC putting out an RFP in 2016, would bring 1,000 units–250 of which would be deemed affordable– a school, 500,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space, and an acre of public space.
TF Cornerstone was selected in July to construct the project. TF Cornerstone and the EDC need the site to be rezoned in order for the development to proceed.
The committee took exception that only 25 percent of the units would be affordable given that the development is going up on city-owned land.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said Lisa Deller, chair of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee. “You have to understand that we are looking for economic diversity. This is city-owned land, it is our land…and if it is not 100 percent affordable it should be 50 percent affordable to people with modest means.”
She said that the EDC doesn’t seem to be hearing what the community wants. “We have plenty of luxury units on the waterfront, we have not been asking for more,” she said.
Kenny Greenberg, a Land Use committee member, questioned the mission of the EDC. “Something called the economic development corporation should be supporting the existing community not imposing more real estate from the outside. It’s economic development for who?”
Eleni Bourinaris, the Queens Borough Director for the EDC, said that affordable housing is just one component of the many benefits the project would bring to the community. She said the commercial and industrial space would bring jobs and help maintain the manufacturing base of the area. The EDC anticipates the project would create 1,500 permanent jobs.
She said that there would be 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space, of which 50,000 square feet would be affordable. The development includes 400,000 square feet of office space, a school and an acre of public space.
The proposed development would go on two parcels: 5-40 44th Drive, which is currently the Department of Transportation facility, and across the street at 4-99 44th Drive, which includes a city-owned parking lot and the former Water’s Edge restaurant, which would be demolished.
John McMillan, director of planning for TF Cornerstone, told the committee that the developer is not just getting two parcels handed to it.
For instance, he said, TF Cornerstone is required to relocate the existing DOT facility, which requires buying a site and constructing a whole building. He said that it could cost more than $50 million.
Furthermore, apart from the provisions of a school and public space, TF Cornerstone has to rebuild a platform where the public space now lies—since it is falling into the East River.
Nevertheless, the plan is likely to face a great deal of community resistance as the EDC and TF Cornerstone try to get the property rezoned.
“There is going to be a huge, huge pushback through any public process as this goes forward about open space and affordability. We are the more rational and composed proponents of affordability,” O’Brien told Bourinaris. “This message really needs to be driven home substantially; it need to go up to a level that something is done about it.”
Deller said that the EDC should reevaluate the plan before going through ULURP rezoning process, which McMillan said that they would start at the end of 2018.
“If we say no, the borough president and councilperson says no—it would cause you to rethink the goal of the project… so why not do it now.”