“Sunset Park is not for sale!”
That was the message of a passionate group of Sunset Park residents who gathered outside Councilmember Carlos Menchaca’s office on June 14 to oppose the rezoning of Industry City. The 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment would increase IC’s total usable space from 5.3 to 6.6 million square feet and, according to Industry City, would create 15,000 on-site jobs through the building of hotels, as well as additional retail space and academic centers.
With several meetings ahead at Community Board 7 to gather community input, the protesters urged Menchaca to represent the working class, majority immigrant population that they say strongly opposes the proposed Industry City rezoning.
The application was delayed after Menchaca and CB7 Chair Cesar Zuniga issued a warning to Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball in a joint letter on March 6, demanding that Industry City delay the rezoning process in order to allow residents time to consider the proposal and respond.
Although the office was closed and Menchaca wasn’t present, attendees, who plan to present a letter to him, made their voices heard.
“We are kind of disappointed that he is not here today to hear us,” said Jei Fong. “We are sending him a message that the majority of this community doesn’t want the rezoning.”
The letter, signed by organizations such as Protect Sunset Park, Artists Against Displacement, BAD Barcode, Sunset Park for a Liberated Future and Youth Against Displacement, stated, “The few jobs that Industry City might create will be a detriment to the vibrant and diverse immigration communities that over decades have built Sunset Park to be the wonderful neighborhood that it is. This rezoning will actually destroy jobs because it will destroy the existing businesses that cannot compete with Industry City’s rising rents.”
The letter also contended that ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), which is triggered when rezoning is proposed, had “historically failed the community.”
Based on this, the letter writers asked Menchaca to oppose the rezoning. “Delay in the process is not enough,” it read. “We need to end it now.”
Twelve-year Sunset Park resident Colleen Peabody-Diez spoke passionately during the rally.
“Sunset Park is a vital American neighborhood,” she said. “My neighbors pour sweat and spirit into growing and nourishing this neighborhood every day.”
She suggested that the spirit of the neighborhood was being threatened by the rezoning proposal and the “gentrifying forces who are eager to capitalize and drain this community of all its American identity.”
“These tenants are very much in jeopardy and this rezoning proposal will be the deathblow to the neighborhood we know and love,” she said. “Real estate interests see the potential for billions of dollars in investment along our shores and they’re heavily pressuring the city government to sell away our homes. Luxury real estate development is not for the working people and Sunset Park.”
Menchaca shared his thoughts on the rally with this paper in a statement.
“I appreciate the many residents and organizations in our neighborhood who continue to engage in our process, offer their perspectives and share new ideas — I hear you,” he said, urging local residents to attend CB7’s upcoming review meetings.
According to a representative for Industry City, the complex has been engaging the community for some time.
“We began a dialogue with the community more than five years ago to ensure the plan for Industry City aligns with the broader needs of Sunset Park,” Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, told this paper in a statement. “Our progress to date, including quadrupling the number of on-site jobs from 1,900 to more than 7,500 and growing the number of businesses from 150 to over 500, is progress toward fulfilling the community’s vision, as defined in the 197A Plan.”
Still, locals continue to be concerned about the impact on their community.
“The situation we are living in is very difficult,” said Celso Sanchez Ramos. “It’s very hard for us to pay the rent. If you’re working at cleaning houses and hotels, it’s impossible to live here. It’s [Menchaca’s] responsibility to protect us and his community. It’s his duty.”