Feb. 28, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
Plans for the waterfront sites that were to be home to Amazon’s Long Island City campus before the company’s stunning walkout earlier this month are currently being assessed, with some describing the atmosphere around future development of the lots as fundamentally altered in light of the abrupt changes.
Amazon was planning on building expansive corporate offices over a mix of publicly and privately owned parcels at Anable Basin, west of Vernon Boulevard and between 44th Road and 46th Avenues. The lots today are held by agencies like the Departments of Education and Transportation, while the private, largely industrial sites are owned by Plaxall, the plastics manufacturer.
The e-commerce company’s short-lived and controversial campus also did away with the city and Plaxall’s plans at the time for large-scale, mixed-use developments on the sites (and in surrounding parcels) that were readying to embark on respective Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURP) for rezonings.
But with Amazon leaving after fierce backlash from grassroots activists and elected officials, and prior development concepts for the waterfront sites also subject to opposition by the same forces when on the table, the stakes have changed for the basin.
“I think everyone is aware of the fact that it’s a very different landscape now, frankly, so we’re trying to be very mindful of that,” said Alexis Wheeler, deputy director for the Queens Borough office of the Department of City Planning, at a Community Board 2 land use meeting earlier this week.
She said the city is in the process of evaluating and assessing its options for those sites, which combined span beyond 15 acres.
The two city-owned sites in the mix were to be developed by TF Cornerstone as part of a project led by the Economic Development Corporation. The development, dubbed the Long Island City Innovation Center, would have reached 1.75 million square feet, and provided for approximately 1,000 apartments in two towers, a public middle school and park, and office and industrial space.
The project was still in its environmental review stages when Amazon officially selected Long Island City for its campus, and was anticipated to kick off its public review process in the first half of 2019.
Plaxall, meanwhile, had envisioned eight large buildings through its properties with up to 5,000 apartments—including a 65-story tower—and manufacturing and retail space constructed over the course of 15 years, among other provisions like a school and open space.
The company was also in its environmental review stages when Amazon had selected the properties for its campus.
“It’s very likely that we will see the projects come back in some form, but we don’t necessarily know the timelines or if they’re going to be the exact same when they come back,” Wheeler said, adding, “At this stage it’s still very early.”
The land use meeting follows remarks made by James Patchett, the CEO of the EDC, at a recent Crain’s breakfast, where he, too, noted the agency is weighing development options for the city-owned sites, but that it is too soon to say what will come.
Plaxall declined to comment on where it stands with potential development of its sites.
The City Planning director said she had yet to receive word from the EDC and Plaxall on picking back up with the parcels, but that conversations on the lots are sure to be different.
“That’s one of the bigger points to be reflected on—are there different projects that are now in the landscape that we have to be analyzing and account for here, too? And are there different conversations that the community wants to have with these?” she said.
Area residents had already mobilized in the weeks after the EDC announced it was moving forward with its Long Island City Innovation Center in the summer of 2017, with the LIC Coalition, an advocacy group, releasing a petition demanding that the waterfront be “saved” from the project at hand.
It cited the proposal’s density and belief that a project on city-owned property needs more collaboration with the public in its opposition, and called for the sites to instead become a wetland park, for one of the existing buildings there to become a community recreation center, and for the large DOE building on Vernon Boulevard to hold a school and offer and arts space and job training.
The coalition’s efforts were also supported by local officials including State Sen. Mike Gianaris, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who all rejected the plans and rallied at the development sites last year.
The city and TF Cornerstone, however, maintained that the project does address the needs and wants of the community.
Plaxall’s Anable Basin project, immediately adjacent to the LICIC, was announced just months afterward, and similar themes were raised during the first public meetings on the development. Some residents and local leaders worried about the project’s impact on Long Island City’s already-strained infrastructure, but the company’s leaders said its plan was comprehensive and would enhance the area.
On top of community demands already vocalized for the waterfront, Wheeler said the moment is opportune for needs and wants to be further spelled out.
“I think it’s an interesting opportunity right now,” she said. “If there’s anything that the community would like, now is a very good time to say that, because we’re in this very odd calm before the storm.”
Diane Hendry, a member of the LIC Coalition, said Amazon “got a taste of how truly lagging our infrastructure is,” and that the group will continue to fight for its vision on the waterfront after the company’s canceled plans.
“So we move on and go back to ULURP—public land for public use at 44th Drive,” she said.