Dec. 18, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A Long Island City company with multiple properties in the neighborhood is facing scrutiny for its part in the state-run plan that aims to rezone the Anable Basin area to bring Amazon’s headquarters about.
The tech giant, in a deal struck with the city and state, plans on building a campus over a set of five publicly and privately owned parcels at the basin, with Plaxall, the plastics manufacturing company headquartered based in the area, as the private landowner of the parcels.
While these five parcels have been designated for Amazon’s campus, another Plaxall-owned parcel, dubbed “block C” and directly to the south of the planned headquarters, will also be moving through the same state run upzoning process—despite not forming part of Amazon’s offices.
The move, signed off on by both the city and state, has already seen challenges from elected officials and community leaders, who say that Plaxall, a private property owner, is receiving an unfair advantage for this parcel and needlessly circumventing city review.
The topic was among many brought up during last week’s city council oversight hearing, titled “exposing the closed-door process” in part, for its goal in revealing details about how the Amazon HQ2 decision came to be.
Speaker Corey Johnson laid out the provisions for Plaxall’s “block C,” bordered by 46th Avenue and 46th Road along 5th Street, that were worked into the Amazon deal during the hearing: The block’s commercial space allowance, for one, would increase to about four times more that what is currently allowed under zoning.
The upzoning, meanwhile, would be at the hands of the state, with no city council review.
“Not only is Plaxall getting Amazon as a tenant on land they own,” Johnson said at the hearing. “They are also getting a windfall in the form of a huge upzoning without having to lift a finger and work with the city council.”
Johnson also said that the increased commercial allowance in the non-Amazon block to about 800,000 square feet translates to “an office building with roughly the same floor area as the Chrysler Building.” But any construction on the Plaxall site, however, will be limited to a height that is roughly a third of the Manhattan skyscraper’s.
James Patchett, president of the Economic Development Corporation, the city agency involved in the HQ2 process, said the Plaxall block was added to the state’s General Project Plan process because of prior plans for the Anable Basin site and a desire to keep continuity.
Last year, at around the same time Amazon embarked on its HQ2 search, Plaxall announced its massive plan to rezone 15 acres of land at Anable Basin—where it owns several plots—and potentially bring about up to 5,000 apartments and thousands of square feet of commercial and manufacturing space.
The Plaxall properties under the now-scrapped rezoning plan included what is now referred to as “block C,” along with the two parcels where Amazon will build part of its offices.
“We felt that it still made sense to keep them as part of a single approval process,” Patchett said, who later added, “We made it possible for [Plaxall] to build commercial space, which we very much hope will be related to the project in the sense that we hope that other companies will locate near them.”
It’s unclear, however, what Plaxall’s exact development plans are for this site, but the result will either be a project with more than 500,000 square feet of residential space or up to 800,000 square feet of commercial space.
Despite the EDC’s reasoning for including the private lot in the plan, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer was incensed at the decision.
“I believe it is fundamentally unethical what you have done with the piece of Plaxall property,” Van Bramer said to Patchett at the hearing, adding that the company will “gain a public benefit and make serious money.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself for that particular piece alone, and you should agree to put that back into ULURP at the minimum,” Van Bramer said, in a statement that received applause from attendees.
Criticism of the property’s inclusion, while eliciting seething statements during the hearing, already began heating up in the days after Amazon’s official HQ2 announcement last month. Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, for example, raised questions about the extra Plaxall parcel in the mix when deliberating over Amazon’s project in its Nov. 20 meeting.
“There’s no reason for them to be part of the GPP,” said Lisa Deller, land use chair, at the meeting. “That’s favored treatment, certainly.”
But in response to Van Bramer’s comments, the EDC said it rejects the premise that the addition of the Plaxall block in the process is unethical and a public good to the developer.
An EDC spokesperson, echoing Patchett’s statements at the hearing, said the decision constitutes smart urban planning and responds to demands heard from the community over implementing comprehensive planning at the waterfront.
It also allows for Plaxall and Amazon to figure out whether the property will be needed for expansion or related uses, the spokesperson said.
Similarly, a spokesperson for the Empire State Development, which was part of HQ2 negotiations, said the project plan is about more than one block or one building, and aims for a comprehensive and logical plan for the basin—as the GPP process was designed to do.
Plaxall declined to comment on the parcel’s part in the state-run rezoning process.