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Guest op-ed: What the Industry City rezoning is really about

BY CARLOS MENCHACA

Industry City’s rezoning proposal is sparking a conversation about Sunset Park’s future like nothing has before. This is good and long overdue.

However, our neighbors are not served by oversimplifications that obscure the issue.

Industry City is neither a savior of our community nor the sole cause of our greatest challenges.

Rather, we must focus our attention on what this rezoning is really about: Do we change the zoning rules that govern Industry City’s property? And if so, when and how?

Here’s what we know: Industry City is creating a luxury mall full of retail and offices. Its behavior is raising rents across the board, which is displacing our most vulnerable neighbors. It is creating some jobs and opportunities for local residents and businesses, but not necessarily with our climate future in mind, and not with an emphasis on manufacturing.

Clearly, Industry City needs to change their game plan. It is inconsistent with the community’s vision of a resilient, working waterfront, as outlined in the 197-A plan.

In September, after months of research and talks with residents and experts, I said I was open to a rezoning of Industry City, but only if we change the rules to reflect the 197-A plan, a neighborhood coalition creates a legally binding contract to hold Industry City and any future property owner accountable and the city commits to long overdue investments in education, housing and jobs.

This is Industry City done our way and would prevent more harm to our neighbors and the waterfront. The community should explore more ideas through a binding contract. But the bottom line is, if Industry City does not follow our lead, I will reject their proposal.

Some of our neighbors recognize the urgency of this moment but want to reject Industry City’s proposal outright and initiate a neighborhood process to change the zoning laws instead. However, the history of neighborhood planning in New York City demonstrates we should not tolerate the status quo while we plan for our future.

The last time Sunset Park came together to plan for its future was over two decades ago, in 1996, when Community Board 7 initiated a process to develop a neighborhood plan that would guide any future development, particularly on the working waterfront.

The 197-A plan was the result, and the City Council approved it in 2009, 13 years later. As the many hardworking people who worked on it know, the 197-A plan is not binding, has no official standing with the Department of City Planning and has not been meaningfully implemented.

Can we tolerate 13 more years of rising rents, displacement and the erosion of the working waterfront? Can we tolerate 10, or even five? What if during this time Industry City changes their business model to something more destructive, or sells its property to a more damaging company like Google or Amazon?

I am open to rejecting Industry City’s proposal outright. But we need answers to these questions. Our most vulnerable neighbors, who may be months away from losing their homes, need to know why accepting the status quo for a decade or more is better than trying to use the tools we have right now to stop Industry City’s destructive behavior.

I believe in processes that center the community and put people in charge. And I also believe in using the power of my elected office to stop bad actors from hurting our neighbors. Thankfully, we can do both at once. We can pursue neighborhood planning while exploring ways to modify Industry City’s proposal in the short-term.

After all, whatever happens with this rezoning, we will still need to address rising rents, displacement and plan for our climate future.

That work has already begun, for the future of Sunset Park has always, and still remains, in our hands. A single private developer will not divide us, not when we have the smartest, most compassionate and most organized neighbors anywhere in New York City.

Carlos Menchaca is a New York City Councilmember representing Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace.

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