Oct. 3, 2019 By Christian Murray
Western Queens elected leaders expressed caution about the development of Long Island City’s waterfront and explained their position about the Amazon deal when they spoke at a townhall meeting in Sunnyside on Sunday.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer fielded questions from the newly-formed progressive group Stand Up Sunnyside that held the townhall meeting in tandem with the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.
A good portion of the meeting was dedicated to the likely redevelopment of a section of the Long Island City waterfront that surrounds Anable Basin, where Amazon’s headquarters was proposed to be built. The 20-acres of property is owned by the plastics company Plaxall and the city.
Discussions concerning the development of the area are currently taking place, according to reports. City officials have been in talks with some of the stakeholders since the property will have to be rezoned.
Van Bramer said that he was very circumspect about the development around Anable Basin and told the audience that the discussion about the Anable Basin property is only taking place because “folks rose up and opposed the really bad deal that Jeff Bazos entered into with Andrew Cuomo.”
Van Bramer said he would oppose any development around Anable Basin that didn’t include neighborhood feedback and noted that if it is based around luxury apartments the plan “is dead on arrival.”
“I’m not going to entertain anything unless it is a community driven process,” Van Bramer said.
The elected officials told an audience of about 100 attendees that the infrastructure in Long Island City is stretched and that greater outreach by the city and developers would be needed before they would entertain such development.
The topic of Amazon not coming to Long Island City was re-visited and Nolan explained why she supported the project while Gianaris and Van Bramer explained their reasons for opposing the deal.
Nolan said that the project would have provided Long Island City with high-paying jobs on an underutilized property. She fears that the site will instead be developed for luxury apartments.
She said that the state and city were listening to the community—even though the plan wasn’t going through the City Council via ULURP. She noted that the ULURP process was not necessarily the panacea and that there have been projects that were approved that did not have the support of the public.
While she didn’t provide examples, there have been unpopular projects in western Queens approved by the City Council as part of the ULURP process that were rejected by the community board.
Gianaris and Van Bramer said that Amazon received strong pushback since it failed to include the community in any real discussion and that the state and city tax giveaways were too high. Van Bramer also noted the tech-giant’s anti-union stance.
“When rich people conspire with the governor to tell us what is going to be the future of our neighborhood then we fight back and rise up and we defeat those forces,” Van Bramer said.
He said that a major problem with Amazon was that it was going to bypass the traditional ULURP procedure that involves community board involvement, town hall meetings and ultimately a council vote.
Gianaris said whether it be Amazon or any large-scale development he wants community involvement.
“My position has always been consistent. If someone has a plan we better be represented at that table. I’m not going to go along with something that is just dropped on us,” he said, noting his concern for the area’s stretched infrastructure.
Nolan said that she was opposed to the influx of luxury housing in Long Island City and reiterated her disappointment that the Amazon deal did not go through.
“I want to make it clear that anyone who is telling you that [the Amazon deal] was all bad…is unrealistic and a bit disingenuous.”
She said that the site could have been the home to thousands of jobs but is now more likely going to one day be apartments.
She said that prior to the Amazon deal she called for a building moratorium on development in Long Island City because there was too much housing. However, since Amazon pertained to jobs and industry she supported it.
Nolan said that she initially signed on to a letter calling Amazon to come to western Queens. “Seventy elected officials signed that letter…it was very serious to me and I consulted with a lot of people.”
“I think we lost a chance to have a lot of high tech jobs. I think it would have been good for the community if done right and the General Project Plan was a away to achieve that.”
While the General Project Plan bypasses ULURP, she said that an advisory board had been created that was making progress. She said it could have brought real benefits to the people of Queensbridge and Ravenswood.
Furthermore, the General Project Plan still requires an environmental review, it allows the community to comment in a public forum and is subject to nonbinding input from the City Planning Commission and the community board.
“The site is there, and there is pressure to develop it…I think it could have been something that worked and I still hope it is something that works,” Nolan said.