Nov. 12, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Long Island City residents and elected officials are pushing back on Amazon’s purported plans to move into the area, with two local politicians denouncing reported efforts by the state to possibly bypass city public review procedures for HQ2 headquarters and grant the e-commerce giant millions in subsidies in a bid to close in on a deal.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris released a scathing statement yesterday on Amazon and the state’s reported moves, noting that both have “serious reservations” about the Amazon to Long Island City deal.
“If public reports about this deal prove true, we cannot support a giveaway of this magnitude, a process that circumvents community review…or the inevitable stress on the infrastructure of a community already stretched to its limits,” reads the joint statement.
While Amazon and the state have not formally announced definitive plans to lock in part of HQ2 to the area, with involved parties repeatedly declining to comment on the matter, new information has come to light on where the company is looking to move into, and what the state is doing to facilitate the move.
Amazon, according to Crain’s, is in negotiations to settle into the area near and surrounding the Anable Basin—just north of the Pepsi Cola sign at Gantry Plaza State Park—which is largely owned largely by Plaxall, a plastic manufacturer, with some city-owned lots in the mix.
Plaxall announced plans last year to rezone 15 acres of land there and bring about eight-mixed use buildings with 5,000 units over the course of 15 years. While the project had yet to even begin its public review process, the plan as envisioned also called for roughly 1.7 million square feet of manufacturing, industrial, office, and retail space at the sites—at most—with Plaxall noting that construction could begin as soon as 2020.
The city-properties, meanwhile, also had development plans pegged to them, with the Economic Development Corporation touting its “Long Island City Innovation Center” project there since last year. The plan, which also requires a rezoning, currently calls for roughly 600,000 square feet of commercial and light industrial space and around 1,000 apartments.
Outside of the Long Island City waterfront, Amazon is also reportedly in talks to move into One Court Square, where Citigroup is vacating the building in 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon’s potential move into the waterfront properties would typically be contingent on a city rezoning, which includes a City Council vote.
The state, however, is reportedly set on executing a controversial “General Project Plan” or GPP, that would bypass this procedure. The action has been used in several large scale projects, like Queens West and Atlantic Yards, and is open to non-binding feedback from the city.
Van Bramer would essentially be cut out of the process should the state take this route. However, he said the issue is more about the community not being able to get a say.
“It’s a direct assault on community engagement and consultation on a project that would change the face of Queens,” he wrote in a separate statement.
On top of using a GPP in lieu of the city’s land-use review process, the state had offered potentially hundreds of millions in subsidies to Amazon to build in Long Island City, according to the New York Times.
“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” the Van Bramer-Gianaris statement reads.
Both politicians said they were not elected to “serve as Amazon drones.”
“It is incumbent upon us to stand up on behalf of the people we represent and that is what we intend to do,” the statement reads.
The joint statement in part is a reversal from Van Bramer’s initial standing on the project. The council member said in October 2017, when the city put forward Long Island City as one possible area Amazon could locate their headquarters to, that he supports any plan that can bring more jobs to the district.
But Van Bramer said yesterday that he regrets his previous position.
“It must be said that a billion dollar subsidy, and this rigged process were never contemplated by many of us when we gave early quotes on the bid,” he said.
The bombshell report last week on Amazon’s likely move to Long Island City, apart from concerns about its hush-hush proceedings, has bewildered residents and electeds in and near the area who have spent years voicing concerns about the area lacking the infrastructure it needs and overcrowding.
Despite the promise of Amazon’s thousands of jobs and economic activity, residents are unable to look away from the neighborhood’s massive growth over the last decade, where features like schools, open space, and transportation have failed to keep up.
Amazon is expected to make a final announcement at the end of the year, although some reports say it could be in coming weeks.