BY LORE CROGHAN, KELLY MENA & SCOTT ENMAN
SUNSET PARK — City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca evoked the specter of corporate giant Amazon moving into Industry City and called on Sunset Park residents to unite behind a Community Benefits Agreement with the complex’s owners in order to keep the company out.
“Essentially, Amazon can come in and take over the entire complex right now. That’s scary. We fought that in Queens and that can happen now, with the correct zoning,” the councilmember said at a Community Board 7 meeting on Wednesday night.
“Wouldn’t it be great for us to consider a CBA that would figure out a way to remove their ability to bring Amazon?”
A Community Benefits Agreement is a set of promises developers make to community groups to help clear the way of opposition for rezoning or development projects.
As an elected official, Menchaca is not legally allowed to craft a CBA, he said. Community members who take on the task in Sunset Park should ask for help from people in neighborhoods where effective, legally binding agreements have been crafted.
The creation of a CBA is one of three demands Sunset Park’s councilmember has made in order for him to accept Industry City’s rezoning proposal, which is widely believed to be entering the community board review phase as early as Monday.
He wants written acknowledgement from Industry City execs that they will incorporate his conditions into a revised application.
What Menchaca is requesting in terms of community cooperation to develop a CBA could prove to be challenging.
Sunset Park residents are fiercely divided about whether there should be no Industry City rezoning at all or if it should proceed with a set of rigid conditions recommended by Menchaca.
At a meeting on Monday where Menchaca announced his rezoning concession demands, protesters drowned him out. Menchaca abruptly ended the meeting.
In a prepared statement on Wednesday, the Protect Sunset Park Coalition said that they will continue to oppose the rezoning, even with Menchaca’s conditions, which they described as “a draft ‘community benefit’ agreement.”
In the statement, the group called on him to “unequivocally reject” any Industry City rezoning.
“What we need is community control over the decisions in our neighborhood,” the coalition said. “We can’t plan for our future in a deal that centers corporate welfare. We need a courageous councilmember who isn’t afraid to stand up to corporate bullies and who puts the community’s welfare first.”
Menchaca’s conditions include removing hotel construction from the rezoning plan and sharply limiting where new retail space can be built, increased investment by the Mayor’s Office and the City Council in Sunset Park, as well as the creation of the Community Benefits Agreement.
Menchaca wields immense power in Industry City’s proposed rezoning. In votes on rezoning issues, councilmembers normally follow the lead of the representative whose district is affected.
On Wednesday night, Menchaca said, “Monday night was hard” — and going forward, he wants to have one-on-one meetings about Industry City rezoning with Sunset Park residents in his office or their homes.
Menchaca warned that residents with opposing views must allow each other’s voices to be heard.
“This process is so dependent on communication. If I can’t have a conversation with all of you, it makes it difficult. And it blurs my ability to understand you and for you to understand me,” he told the people attending the CB7 meeting. “And that is the most dangerous thing ahead of us.”
“What happened on Monday, and what could potentially be continuing to happen in this community is that the only person, the only group, that benefits from us not staying together and communicating and understanding each other are ‘the capitalistic animals,’ as I call them. Developers,” he said. “Because they will win.”
Industry City is a 35-acre office, retail and light-manufacturing complex with more than 500 businesses from a diverse range of sectors, including technology, design and media, among others.
At Wednesday’s meeting, CB7 chairperson Cesar Zuniga said that he was “told to shut up” 30 seconds after he started speaking at Monday’s meeting and later some Sunset Park residents and CB7 members told him they felt “bullied” and “feared for their personal safety.”
“I believe in free speech,” Zuniga said. “I am going to let anyone and everyone speak their voice, speak their truth, speak their mind. But I’m not going to tolerate — and I’m going to ask all of you as board members, to help me stand up against — incivility and folks being rude and folks trying to shut down the conversation.”
After the meeting, Zuniga emphasized that even with protests, community debate is enormously preferable to the way rezoning proposals are usually handled.
“I have from the beginning thought the ULURP process as it’s codified is broken,” Zuniga told the Brooklyn Eagle. “And so that’s why we started last year to have all these town halls, all these engagements.
“It’s better to have a process that’s messy, that’s emotional, that’s heated, than to do business as usual in this city where developers get into rooms with folks, hash out deals and then suddenly the public is an afterthought,” Zuniga said.