“Saying ‘no’ outright is unacceptable to me.”
SUNSET PARK — Councilmember Carlos Menchaca penned an open letter on Thursday clarifying his decision to allow Industry City’s rezoning to proceed with concessions, while also explaining his thought process. He called the outcome a “major victory” and reiterated that saying “no” outright to the proposal was “unacceptable” and would only exacerbate current trends of gentrification, displacement and rising rents.
The Sunset Park politician released the message after his office received numerous inquiries from residents who felt there was ambiguity surrounding the role of an advisory group that helped him reach his conclusions, according to a staffer.
Menchaca said that no single entity or individual influenced his thinking, but that he ultimately needed others to help him analyze all of the information.
“I convened a group to help me, comprised of many Community Board 7 committee chairs and several non-profits who are experts in understanding our neighborhood’s history and needs,” he wrote.
“I asked this advisory group to engage with all the research I was doing, and grapple with the complexity of the concerns. While I relied on their advice and analysis, the solutions I developed are my own.”
Some, however, described those “closed-door” discussions as contrary to a community driven process. Protect Sunset Park, a group formed to oppose the rezoning, confronted Menchaca on Sept. 20 as he was meeting with the working group and representatives of Industry City.
Menchaca said he would never support Industry City’s rezoning unless the developers first concede to a set of rigid conditions, and the Mayor’s Office and City Council then increase investment into Sunset Park.
He also said he would reject the proposal if the developers rushed it through certification. Industry City had initially planned to submit the land-use application on Sept. 23, but eventually agreed to delay it.
In his letter, Menchaca claimed that Industry City’s presence has already exacerbated gentrification, displacement and rising rents — all while his neighborhood continues to grapple with poor housing, climate change and tenant harassment and eviction.
“It is clear to me that modifying Industry City’s proposal is the best way to start tackling and hopefully start reversing these trends,” he wrote. “The alternative of doing nothing, of saying ‘no’ outright, is unacceptable to me.
“Housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization. Manufacturing and industrial property owners will continue to take advantage of our extremely flexible zoning rules and convert to office and retail uses.”
Industry City spokesperson Lisa Serbaniewicz told the Brooklyn Eagle that they value Menchaca’s leadership and the time he and his advisory group have dedicated to the process. “Conversations are ongoing and we are hopeful that a solution leading to the creation of 20,000 jobs can be found,” she said.
In response to Menchaca’s letter, a group of leaders and advocates from the Mexican-American community delivered their own response to the councilmember on Thursday at a Mexican independence celebration, urging him to reconsider his position and “unequivocally reject” the rezoning plan.
“While your recent letter claims that housing pressures will worsen as investment on our waterfront continues without associated investment in housing stabilization, we believe that this reasoning is flawed,” they wrote.
“If a developer-led rezoning is allowed to go through, the displacement of Sunset Park’s immigrant and working-class families will be accelerated by real estate speculation and the accompanying rise in property values.”
The authors said Menchaca should work with them, rather than the developers, to build a community-driven vision for Sunset Park.
One of Menchaca’s honorees, Guadalupe Umbrosio, publicly called on Menchaca, who is the first Mexican-American legislator elected to the City Council, to say “no” as she accepted a proclamation at the ceremony.
Sunset Park has one of the largest Mexican-American populations in New York City.
Menchaca left open the possibility that he could still say “no” even after ULURP — the city’s time-limited land-use process — begins, if he feels the rezoning is not on the right track toward benefiting the community as he initially envisioned.