Unruly crowd forces abrupt end to meeting
SUNSET PARK — Councilmember Carlos Menchaca revealed on Monday at a contentious meeting that he will not approve Industry City’s proposed rezoning until the developers concede to a set of rigid conditions, and the mayor’s office and City Council increase investment into Sunset Park.
Industry City developers were set to file their land-use application later this month or early October, kickstarting the year-long rezoning process. The multi-part ultimatum from Menchaca, who plays a powerful role in approving the expansion, could send developers back to the drawing table — and brings the mayor into politically fraught terrain.
The Sunset Park politician was unable to fully articulate his demands because he was forced to end his presentation early, as protesters drowned out the elected official with chants of “No rezoning! No conditions!”
“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 a statement after the event.
Menchaca also refuted an assertion made in Crain’s that he had reached a “deal” with Industry City, calling the claim entirely “false.”
Industry City wants zoning changes so they can build two hotels, academic space and large retail stores as part of a $1 billion redevelopment that would increase its size from roughly 5.3 to 6.6 million square feet by 2027.
Menchaca had several issues with that initial plan and said that three conditions would have to be met in order for him to consider the rezoning.
First, Industry City would have to incorporate into their land-use application all of the following modifications that Menchaca articulated on Monday:
- No hotels
- A reduction in the amount of retail space
- Creating a “manufacturing hub” that would be managed by a nonprofit
- Create a public technical high school and adult training center
- Devote funding for tenant education and organizing
- Give Sunset Park residents access to free lawyers in housing court
- Enhance funds and space for job training
- Incentivize tenants to buy from local businesses
- Provide funding to support the preservation of affordable housing
- Donate roof space at Industry City to expand the Sunset Park Solar Cooperative
Even if Industry City agrees to all of the above modifications, Menchaca said he would hold up the application without additional support from the mayor’s office and his colleagues in the council.
Menchaca will require, as his second condition for approval, that the mayor’s office provide a written letter indicating that the city is committed to investing in Sunset Park.
Examples of that commitment would include providing resources for a public technical high school and funding tenant advocates, affordable housing and other investments that only the city can provide.
The third condition would require neighborhood organizations to enter into a community benefits agreement, a legally-binding contract with the Industry City developers to deliver on their promises.
“Unless these conditions are met, I will never accept a rezoning proposal from Industry City,” Menchaca said. “The ball is in Industry City’s court about whether we can partner in a way that benefits everyone. I look forward to Industry City’s response to my letter by Thursday and look forward to continuing this conversation with the community.”
The rezoning application seeks to further transform the waterfront industrial site into an “innovation economy” hub characterized by makers, creatives and retailers with 15,000 on-site jobs.
Under Menchaca’s vision, the New York City Economic Development Corporation would be required to count and report on the jobs Industry City creates.
Menchaca wields immense power in the rezoning battle. The City Council has the final say, and councilmembers normally vote in line with the representative whose district is affected.
The partners of the 16-building campus — which include Jamestown, Belvedere Capital, Angelo Gordon, Cammeby’s International and FBE Limited — have spent more than $2 million since 2014 lobbying for the rezoning, according to PincusCo.
That consortium bought the struggling complex in 2013 and transformed it into a sprawling coastal campus filled with 7,500 employees and more than 500 businesses from a diverse range of sectors, including technology, design and media, among others.
Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, said that the concessions put forward on Monday would need to be hashed out during the ULURP process.
“The dialogue continues and some interesting ideas were put forth,” she told the Eagle. “These kind of ideas are considered and discussed during ULURP.”
Menchaca, however, is unwilling to negotiate during the ULURP process, which is time-limited. He instead wants modifications built into the application before it’s filed.
Menchaca, along with Community Board 7 chairperson Caesar Zuniga, have said ULURP is deeply flawed.
“Unfortunately, ULURP has not proven to be an effective means for addressing … concerns, partly because it works like a negotiation, rather than a fact-finding mission,” Menchaca told the Eagle in an interview in April.
Zuniga echoed those remarks, telling the Eagle on Monday that ULURP is “broken,” “rigged” and made to create the illusion of collaboration.
He said that in an ideal scenario, Industry City would wait longer to submit their application to allow for more community engagement. He called the Community Board’s 60-day window to make a recommendation “pathetic and laughable” given how much is at stake.
Residents against the plan made a last-ditch effort to influence Menchaca, holding a rally just before his announcement and delivering hundreds of signatures from local residents urging him to reject the expansion.
At a Sept. 5 protest, attendees presented him with more than 3,000 signatures against the project.
Critics of the proposal have argued that the rezoning will dramatically reshape Sunset Park further exacerbating displacement in the largely immigrant low-income community.