Dec. 18, 2017 By Nathaly Pesantez
The public scoping meeting on Plaxall’s Anable Basin rezoning proposal Thursday saw local leaders and community residents urging the city to take a close look at Long Island City and the effects that a rezoning of the area would have on a neighborhood overwrought with development.
Over 40 members and representatives of the community spoke at the Department of City Planning’s Dec. 15 public scoping meeting, presenting the agency with ideas on what it should focus on when studying the impact that a rezoning of the 15-acre area surrounding Anable Basin would have on the neighborhood.
The proposed rezoning, called for by the family behind Plaxall, would create the Special Anable Basin District, which would upzone the area and pave the way for the construction of up to 5,000 residential units, 335,000 square feet of industrial space, and nearly 330,000 square-feet of commercial space on land mostly owned by the plastics company.
But the city’s upcoming study comes at a time when several large developments, all at different stages, are planned for the surrounding blocks. Attendes at the meeting said the projects were proposed without much city discussion to their potential effects on one another and beyond the Hunters Point waterfront area.
The projects include the Economic Development Corporation’s plans, announced in July, to bring 1,000 units in two towers with heights of over 500 feet on 44th Drive–subject to a rezoning; and the Paragon Paint site on Vernon Boulevard, seeking a variance that would allow for 248 residential units on a block currently zoned for manufacturing.
“This kind of ersatz spot zoning approach has great potential to be a recipe for disaster,” said Denise Keehan-Smith, chairperson of Community Board 2, at the public scoping meeting. “It is difficult to determine the effect one project will have on the community without fully understanding the scope of the other projects under consideration and their effects on each other.”
Area residents have repeatedly raised concerns over the years on topics like affordable housing, environmental and sustainability issues, transportation, and infrastructure, Keehan-Smith said. But the concerns have gone largely unaddressed by the city as the neighborhood has continued to rapidly develop under the city’s watch and approval.
Lisa Deller, chair of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, said additional towers in Long Island City are “not a high priority” for the community, and demanded that the DCP initiate a single, comprehensive rezoning plan for the entire waterfront area to solve the issue of the city looking at area developments on a spot-by-spot basis.
“We don’t need a newer, different skyline until community concerns have been satisfactorily addressed,” she said.
Deller, who has spoken out against city agencies for their lack of transparency and poor planning in large-scale projects relating to the area, criticized the timing of the public scoping meeting and the 14-day window for people to submit written comments on the draft scope to the DCP.
The combination “resulted in minimal community review” of the proposed rezoning, Deller said, and requested the deadline for public comment to be extended to March 2018.
Residents, fearful of yet another large development, provided the DCP with specific items to consider with the potential rezoning during the meeting.
Multiple speakers questioned the resiliency and environmental sustainability of the mixed-use project, especially after the waterfront was flooded during Superstorm Sandy.
“My main issue is the environmental impact of this concrete surfaced mini-city, given we choose to live in flood plain,” said Nigel Rollings, a 38-year resident and professional landscape designer. “In the real world, it needs to act as a sponge in times of extraordinarily high water surges.”
Attendees also called for the city and the developers to consider the impact of thousands of extra people on Long Island City’s infrastructure, like its trains, buses, and streets.
“The infrastructure of LIC cannot accommodate 10,000 more people” said Danielle Luscombe, a fashion designer and area resident for the past 13 years. “It cannot even accommodate 1,000 more people. If you’ve been on the 7 train in the morning, you know what I am talking about.”
Others asked about the 700-seat school, proposed to be built on a nearby site that Plaxall would donate to the city, and how it would fit with the three schools slated to come to the nearby Hunters Point South.
The family that owns Plaxall, a company that has been in Long Island City for seven decades, received much praise from a number of community members who spoke to their commitment to the neighborhood, especially in the arts, and years of contributions to a number of non-profits in the area, including Hour Children, Recycle a Bicycle, and the Long Island City Community Boat House.
“I have seen longtime residents of LIC or New York City, who have never been in the water, get a twinkle in their eye,” said Agnes Michalek, chairperson of the Long Island City Community Boat House, as she described the free boating program offered at her non-profit. “We provide this opportunity to them, graciously, because we have space due to Plaxall for free.”
In a statement, Paula Kirby, Plaxall’s managing director and a grandchild of Louis Pfohl, the company’s founder, said her family’s name is tied to the potential rezoning.
“We’ve been here 70 years and this really is our family’s legacy and our future,” she said. “It has to be done right. And we fully intend to stay involved in the development of the new Anable Basin for many years.”
Kirby said the comments received during the scoping meeting were “appreciated.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future of LIC, and we’ve identified those components [such as the school] as absolutely essential to any future development on the site,” Kirby said. “That’s why we’re pursuing a rezoning that would lock in those commitments – no matter what projects are developed or who builds them.”
Linh Do, an environmental scientist overseeing the environmental impact statement for the proposed rezoning, said the EDC’s 44th Drive development site will be included in their analysis. Do also spoke to areas of study of interest to Long Island City, including potential socioeconomic changes with the rezoning, business displacement, and a transportation analysis on over 30 intersections near the basin and on the Court Square and 21 St/ Vernon Boulevard train stations.
Kirby added that studying the effects of the Special Anable Basin District with neighboring projects “constitutes smart planning,” and will be taken into consideration.
With the blueprint for the draft scope underway, some see the proposed rezoning as an opportunity.
“Anable Basin is currently a gloomy industrial area with limited roads, limited access, sparse public transportation and very little retail,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in a statement. “We have seen the success of Queens West and Hunters Point South in Long Island City and in Northern Brooklyn. And it is time for that trend to reach Anable Basin — an extraordinary area with magnificent views of Manhattan and the East River.”
“This rezoning has the potential to create another great neighborhood, if it is done right,” she added.
The public can submit written comments to the Department of City Planning on its draft scope until the close of business on Dec. 26. Emails can be sent to DCP at [email protected].
A spokesperson for the DCP said the agency is aware of requests to have the deadline extended, and that potential updates to the deadline for written comments would be posted on the agency’s website.