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Sunset Park debates future of Industry City rezoning

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Council member Carlos Menchaca said he’s “not sure that a rezoning is at all necessary now"

A dilapidated warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Nathan Kensinger

Sunset Park’s community board is gearing up for a stopgap review of Industry City’s rezoning now that the complex has agreed to put its plans on hold. Local leaders are mobilizing meetings, studies, and experts to prepare for the rezoning’s formal land use review that will likely kick off this September.

The owners of the 16-building campus have long-sought a rezoning to expand and add new uses to Industry City—furthering its transformation from an industrial remnant of Sunset Park’s waterfront to a commercial destination. Industry City filed an application to initiate the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in Feburary, but City Council member Carlos Menchaca threatened to kill the project unless they postponed their plans.

Now, Brooklyn Community Board 7 and Menchaca are using that extra time to lay the groundwork for an exhaustive review of how the rezoning will impact the largely working-class, Latino-Asian neighborhood.

“A stronger community precedent is the most important thing here as we fight, prepare, and respond to the issues we’re feeling: gentrification, equitable economic development, health issues, climate change,” Menchaca told Curbed. “And the only way we get to that is through a strong community-led process.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Menchaca told Sunset Park residents he’s “not sure that a rezoning is at all necessary now” and emphasized the need for more time to review plans that would allow Industry City to develop two hotels, add more than 1 million square feet to its campus, and create new retail and classroom space. For many long-time locals, the plan has stoked gentrification fears.

“Today we have $18 cups of coffee, euro-centric restaurants, we have mini-golf [at Industry City] ... this development is not meant for us it’s meant for rich people,” fumed Jei Fong, a community organizer in Sunset Park, at a small rally against the rezoning ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. “It will only pave the way for more luxury development.”

To evaluate the project’s impacts on the neighborhood, John Fontillas, the land use chair of Community Board 7 and an architect with H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, has asked six of the board’s committees (land use, housing, economic development, transportation, health, and education) to convene in the coming weeks and closely examine portions of the rezoning’s scoping documents—which have been available since September 2017.

Three studies are also in the works on possible mpacts: A New York University Wagner Urban Planning study is examining housing, NYU Langone is delving into the area’s health, and a Hunter College study is zeroing in on education. Additionally, the South Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation is meeting with local businesses and the community board aims to bring in urban planners for input.

Over the spring and summer, Community Board 7 plans to host nearly a dozen town halls dedicated to breaking down analysis on different facets of the rezoning. All of this will add up to a flushed out picture of how the rezoning is poised to alter Sunset Park and enable the board to make pointed recommendations during the actual ULURP process that will give the board 60 days to offer feedback, says board leadership.

“We may not get all of this right, but I hope it’s clear that our commitment is to have a community process,” said Cesar Zuniga, the chairman of Community Board 7.

By September, the board hopes Industry City will certify its application into the ULURP process. Industry City declined to comment on when the complex plans to move forward with the rezoning.

Asked why these steps weren’t taken in the more than year’s time since initial rezoning plans were filed with the city, Menchaca stressed that “a community process is going to be different from a business that is trying to extract revenue.” The rezoning delay comes after Industry City conducted years of outreach in anticipation of its application and spent more than $2 million on lobbying to push the project forward.

Industry City has said it expects the rezoning to create 15,000 jobs for the area but community board members say they have little information to back that claim up. Justin Collins, a board member who specializes in workforce development at Workforce Field Building Hub, worries that the company is using the promise of thousands of jobs as a “carrot for the development” without providing details on the types of jobs coming to the neighborhood. Industry City declined to offer a breakdown of job creation, but emphasized its desire to create economic opportunities for residents of Sunset Park.

“We look forward to working with Councilman Menchaca to further the common mission of creating economic opportunity for area residents,” said Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in on the rezoning Thursday at an unrelated press conference and said the boom of jobs the rezoning is expected to bring will help those struggling to stay in their homes.

“This is about, to me, ensuring that there are jobs for people in working communities ... I understand that there are concerns about gentrification and those are honest and those are real,” said de Blasio. “But the irony to me is that this particular initiative was aimed at creating jobs for working people for the community and from surrounding communities, which I think are what allow people to stay in their community.”