A controversial proposal to rezone Sunset Park’s Industry City is dead in the water unless developers dramatically overhaul their plans to meet a laundry list of conditions by City Council member Carlos Menchaca, the lawmaker said at a rowdy Monday town hall.
The owners of the 16-building waterfront campus—a partnership between Jamestown, Belvedere Capital, and Angelo, Gordon & Co.—have long-sought a rezoning to further transform Industry City from an industrial space into a mixed-use destination. But if the company is to push forward with that vision, it needs to do so without a pair of hotels it aims to build, reduce the amount of retail space it’s seeking, and devote space to a new manufacturing hub and a public technical high school, according to Menchaca, whose make-or-break vote on the project is a crucial bargaining chip.
“I believe that we can work together to build community power to shape our future,” Menchaca told a crowd of hundreds crammed into the auditorium of Sunset Park High School. “I’m not going to be bullied by anyone so I can have a conversation with you.”
Industry City’s developers filed an application to initiate the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in February, but Menchaca threatened to kill the project unless the company postponed their plans. Since then, Community Board 7 and the councilmember have studied potential impacts to the Brooklyn neighborhood with a fine-tooth comb while holding a series of meetings to increase transparency on the process.
The plan has faced fierce pushback from community groups such as Uprose, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, and the Protect Sunset Park Coalition. Locals argue that Industry City’s push to increase its footprint and allow for an additional 900,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet for classrooms and educational facilities, and a pair of hotels with more than 400 rooms, will further ramp up rents and push out long-time locals.
“There’s nothing, nothing innovative about what’s happening on this waterfront because gentrification is old,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, told a gathering of protestors ahead of Monday’s town hall.
Menchaca isn’t sold on Industry City’s current vision for the rezoning, but he isn’t ready to throw the baby out with the bath water, either. He wants to significantly amend the rezoning to enhance the community investments Sunset Park would receive. But Menchaca cut the town hall short before he was able to fully spell out his demands after several minutes of “no rezoning, no concessions” chants drowned him out.
In a statement issued after the event, Menchaca called on the developers to pull their current application and swap it for a proposal that includes his neighborhood priorities, along with kicking in funds to support affordable housing and tenant organizing, setting aside dollars for jobs training, and donating rooftop space to expand Sunset Park Solar.
Locals and community groups who “believe that this is an opportunity worth taking advantage of” would come together to form a committee that would work to memorialize those commitments with Industry City in a legally binding community benefits agreement, he says.
“I am unequivocally against, and will never, ever, allow Industry City to move forward with a rezoning proposal through ULURP in the form that they submitted to the City Planning Commission in February earlier this year,” Menchaca said in his statement. “However, while Industry City has certainly contributed to the trends that have hurt our community, saying no without a plan to confront those challenges will not fix those issues but allow them [to] continue.”
Additionally, Menchaca called on the de Blasio administration to commit, in writing, that it will work toward making those community investments; he also wants the NYC Economic Development Corporation to actively monitor Industry City’s job creation should the rezoning go through.
But Menchaca’s vision is a tall order for Industry City, whose executives were not privy to much of the proposal until Monday night’s town hall, said Andrew Kimball, the CEO of Industry City.
“We’ve been having some constructive conversations but we’ve got a long way to go and I feel like he’s laid out a lot of asks for us,” Kimball told Curbed. “There’s a lot of interesting things for us to digest. We think there are things we can work on to get the project to a place we hope the community will embrace fully.”
Industry City needs the green light from city lawmakers for certain new uses that are not currently allowed under the property’s zoning. If the company decides to walk away from the negotiating table, it could “turn entirely to commercial office-type tenants,” Kimball threatened in a March letter to Menchaca. The developers say they would rather not resort to that plan B if it can be avoided.
“We can have a discuss about everything and that’s what I’ve made clear to the community board and clear to the Councilman and his advisors, as long as there are pathways to continue the business growth in Industry City, we’re open to exploring it,” said Kimball. “Everything is on the table.”