Sunset Park residents demand Menchaca votes against rezoning
SUNSET PARK — More than 75 Sunset Park residents rallied against Industry City’s proposed rezoning on Thursday in front of the office of Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who has the final say on whether to kill or approve the application for the expansion.
Protesters urged him to vote against the plan, brandishing signs and chanting, “Sunset Park is not for sale!” and, “Industry City has got to go!”
The politician was present for the hour-long rally, nodding his head during chants and accepting a petition with more than 3,000 signatures against the rezoning. At the end, he thanked the crowd in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic.
Menchaca wields outsize power in the rezoning battle, as the City Council has the final say, and councilmembers usually vote in line with the representative whose district is affected. If Menchaca chooses to oppose the proposal, it’s unlikely to become a reality.
Industry City’s rezoning application seeks to transform the waterfront industrial site into an “innovation economy” hub characterized by makers, creatives and retailers.
Its backers want zoning changes so they can build two hotels, academic space and large retail stores as part of a 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment that would increase its size from roughly 5.3 to 6.5 million square feet.
“We don’t need any more information,” said Jei Fong, a resident and member of the community organization Protect Sunset Park. “We know that this rezoning is bad for our community.”
A 197-a plan was created and approved in 2011 for Sunset Park. It’s a formal, community-driven vision for the neighborhood, prioritizing neighborhood investment and goals. The plan calls for Sunset Park’s residential communities to be reconnected with the waterfront, fostering regional economic development and a “healthy living and working environment.”
The undercurrent of criticism against Industry City’s plan is that an expanded retail and creative destination would lead to rising rents, undermining the goal of a “healthy living” environment. It could also stifle opportunity for public access to the neighborhood’s waterfront.
Fong argued that what the plan stands for has largely been ignored throughout the entire rezoning process. “That 197-a recommendation is just a piece of paper,” she said.
Industry City officials, though, say the complex’s overhaul moves the needle on fulfilling the plan’s vision, providing more jobs and fueling investment necessary to reactivate long-blighted spaces.
Lisa Serbaniewicz, a spokesperson for Industry City, touted the number of people working at Industry City, saying in the last five years, employment has jumped from 1,900 to almost 8,000, with about 50 percent of those employees living in Brooklyn.
“Of the people who both live and work in Sunset Park, more work at Industry City than at any other place in the neighborhood,” she said. “In addition to stimulating significant economic opportunity through job growth, Industry City has spent over $400 million to reactivate the long-dormant campus, including some $100 million at Brooklyn businesses.
“The rezoning would allow all of this to continue, creating far greater benefits than has already been achieved.”
A scoping document for the Industry City redevelopment proposes reducing the amount of space dedicated for warehousing, which employs few people at low wages, and replacing it with light manufacturing and retail that could employ more area residents.
Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball acknowledged in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle in June that Sunset Park is seeing an influx of new residents — which includes, he said, immigrants and “some element of gentrification.” The project’s goal, he said, is to accommodate a broad spectrum of residents, with varying degrees of skill, education and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“If you look up and down the Brooklyn waterfront, you see a lot of these changes happening,” Kimball said. “The question is, I believe, are we creating the kinds of good-paying jobs that allow people to live close to where they work, close to where they live and to move up the economic ladder? I believe we’re showing lots of evidence that that is the case for the kinds of businesses we’re bringing here.”
Industry City also touts its Innovation Lab as a way to train workers and move them up the economic ladder, though it’s unclear if it can scale to make a broadly felt impact in a rapidly changing community.
Residents at the rally compared the rezoning to similar projects at the Bedford-Union Armory, Pacific Park and Chelsea Market (the last of which was redeveloped by Jamestown Properties, a lead stakeholder in Industry City) — projects that all accelerated displacement and gentrification, they say.
Protesters urged residents to come together in a united front, as they did with the recent immigration raids in the neighborhood.
Corbin — a member of Sunset Park for a Liberated Future who declined to give his last name — reminded Menchaca that his term is up in 2020 — and that the politician’s decision on the rezoning could have wide implications for his reelection bid. “Councilmember Menchaca, the people of Sunset Park have spoken,” he said.
The protest ended in a raucous chant of “Vota no!” (Spanish for “Vote no”) and “Which side are you on, Carlos? Which side are you on?”