Nov. 15, 2018 By Christian Murray
Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, perhaps most known in recent years for her staunch opposition to large-scale developments within her district, raised eyebrows earlier this week when she came out in support of Amazon’s plan to build a campus spanning millions of square feet in Long Island City.
The longtime assemblymember sat alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio during the official deal announcement on Tuesday to tout the benefits of Amazon’s plans in her district.
“Long Island City has been the beating heart of New York City since the modern city began at the turn of the last century,” she said. “With this announcement, our community is again poised to be the most successful mixed-use neighborhood in New York.”
But Nolan’s enthusiasm for the deal, local leaders and politicians say, stands in stark contrast to her history of ripping into sprawling developments one after another, particularly in Long Island City, which she has represented since the 1980s.
She has been quick to point out, for instance, how the neighborhood’s infrastructure is stretched due to over-development, citing the lacks of school seats, transportation issues and the dearth of green space in the area. News after news of tall buildings have even led her to demand a a “moratorium” on new building construction just this past summer.
She has even denounced the city’s prior plans to develop a 1.75 million square foot project on 44th Drive, the same site where Amazon will be placing part of its headquarters.
Many thought she would have slammed the Amazon deal, too, which is set to bring offices spanning up to 8 million square feet and even catering up to 40,000 employees around Anable Basin.
“We were surprised by Cathy Nolan’s statement, especially given her call for a building moratorium and how she has always expressed the need for infrastructure,” said Brent O’Leary, president of the Hunters Point Civic Association.
Ernie Brooks, a member of the LIC Coalition, which has led the fight against overdevelopment in the area, said his group was disappointed by her announcement. “We thought she would have been more aligned with our position,” he said.
Nolan told coalition members on Wednesday, according to Brooks, that the deal was a fait accompli—sure to go through no matter her stance.
She told the group that it was better for her to be in support the plan, as it would put her in a better position to guide it.
The assemblymember also seems to be focused on the employment opportunities the project will bring, citing the benefits of the high-paying jobs tied to Amazon’s project during the meeting with coalition members, Brooks said.
Her push for Amazon, while mostly a commercial project, still stands in sharp contrast to the bulk of scathing statements she has made against residential and other mixed-use developments in Long Island City.
Her July letter to de Blasio calling for a freeze on any and all new development in Long Island City, regardless of type, for instance, made her the only elected official in the district to call for such a measure.
“I ask for a moratorium on any new building permits for new construction in Long Island City until the city can present a plan for properly increasing the infrastructure,” she wrote in a letter to de Blasio.
The letter was prompted by news reports pertaining to the 67-story, 802-unit condo project in the works at 23-14 44th Drive.
Nolan’s letters to the administration do not stop there. In 2015, when the MTA sold air rights to the Queens Plaza Park Development company–paving the way for a 70-story building next to the clock tower–she panned the deal and called on City Planning to “solve these issues of density and scale” in the neighborhood.
“I am concerned that as the Long Island City community continues to grow, the demand for basic transportation needs, health facilities and classroom seats are not keeping up with demand,” she wrote at the time.
In 2017, when the city announced plans to develop a large mixed-use building over the LIRR tracks at 11-24 Jackson Ave., Nolan opposed it.
“This project has a high probably to be outsized and not right for Long Island City. I oppose such overdevelopment,” she said at the time. “Considering the size of the site and its proximity to other large scale development in Long Island City, there must be a better plan to increase basic services before such large scale development is considered.”
And just in March of this year, she stood with members of the LIC Coalition to denounce the Economic Development Corporation’s joint plan with TF Cornerstone to develop the 44th Drive site that Amazon is slated to go on. The plan at the time included about 1,000 apartments, a public school, and manufacturing and commercial space.
On Wednesday, at the ‘No to Amazon’ rally that took place near the proposed Amazon site, Nolan was notably absent.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer led the rally, with other electeds such as Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Costa Constantinides, State Senator-elect Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember-elect Catalina Cruz in support.
While the electeds in attendance have different stances on Amazon’s overall presence in Long Island City, they all bashed the billions in tax-payer subsidies the company is set to receive as part of the deal, in light of the neighborhood’s critical infrastructure needs, along with the hush-hush proceedings conducted by the city and state.
Some of the elected officials have been taking less-than-subtle swipes at Nolan for her stance.
“The list of elected officials who are standing in strong opposition to this multi-billion dollar give away and the secretive process grows everyday,” Van Bramer, who has led the opposition with State Sen. Mike Gianaris, said. “People should take note of the elected officials who are supporting this.”
Meanwhile, Gianaris at a Tuesday Hunters Point Civic Association meeting, told plan naysayers: “Make sure everyone who represents you supports you and comes out strongly on your side. There is a tug of war going on. You have got me, you have got Jimmy, but there are some that are not there…even locally.”
But in a statement released after this article was published, Nolan defended her stance, and said Amazon’s plans are inherently different from other projects in that it’s a commercial, mixed-use development rather than a residential one.
“It provides not just union construction jobs but permanent ongoing jobs,” her statement reads, followed by: “This plan calls for union construction, including union service workers in the buildings going forward. If that is lost I think that is a negative outcome.”
She said the city and state’s effort to bring about a mixed-use development is a good public policy goal, as it calls for a comprehensive plan rather than “piecemeal” approaches to development, as seen in other large-scale, residential projects.
Nolan added that Amazon won’t be building at Anable Basin for a number of years, which will give time for area infrastructure to improve, especially as the state’s plan is set to include provisions for such changes.
At the same time, however, the assemblymember still says the most ideal situation would have been for the city to pause development in Long Island City like she called for, especially high-rise residential towers.
“I asked for a moratorium so that the city could produce a more comprehensive plan,” she said.
Nolan is not completely alone in supporting the plan. Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, the LIC Partnership and LaGuardia Community College support the deal.
Update 11:34 a.m. 11/16 – Statements from Nolan included in article.
DiBlasio Letter July 16 2018 by on Scribd