City Planning Commission approves Industry City rezoning

Showdown at City Council next for controversial proposal

New York /
Aug.August 19, 2020 11:45 AM
Industry City and City Planning Commission chairwoman Marisa Lago (iStock)

Industry City and City Planning Commission chairwoman Marisa Lago (iStock)

The City Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the proposed rezoning of Industry City, setting the stage for a dramatic decision by the City Council.

Marisa Lago, a mayoral appointee who chairs the commission, emphasized that the city is in dire need of jobs as the pandemic has sent unemployment soaring. She noted that residents of low-income communities and Black, indigenous people of color are hardest hit during times of economic crisis.

“I believe the Industry City proposal can help us stop this cycle of neglect and inequity and help us to right a historical wrong,” she said.

The plan’s opponents make the exact opposite argument, claiming that the 20,000 jobs forecast by the business campus’ owners, Jamestown, will gentrify Sunset Park and push locals out.

Commissioner David Burney was the only member to vote against the application. Burney cited the fact that the Industry City developers agreed to eliminate hotels as part of their proposal but failed to actually remove them from the rezoning application. He said the hotel and retail planned in the complex will have a negative impact on small businesses and turn the area into a “Jamestown shopping mall.”

“This just diminishes the role of the community review process and sidesteps the work of the community board and the local elected officials who represent that community,” he said, referring to opposition from Brooklyn Community Board 7 and Council member Carlos Menchaca.

Other commissioners said they felt hotels were necessary to make the proposal economically viable. But Industry City’s executives have said they plan to remove the hotels from the plan. Doing so when it reaches the City Council could help members who support it to justify their vote.

The proposal to rezone the 35-acre campus, which would allow for more retail, academic space and offices, will now head to the City Council. Menchaca, Sunset Park’s local Council member, has said he will vote against the application, which is typically a death sentence for a land-use application.

But fellow members Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards and Robert Cornegy Jr. have urged their colleagues to defy the City Council tradition of reflexively voting along with the local member’s wishes.

Also, labor and business groups have called on City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to support the rezoning, pointing to the proposal’s projected creation of jobs and $100 million in annual tax revenue.

And Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose support was confirmed by Lago’s advocacy, has noted that member deference is not a hard and fast rule. Whether he plans to spend political capital to help the rezoning garner 26 Council votes remains to be seen. Menchaca has said he is trying to end “deference to developers.”

Jamestown, the developer behind the application, bought half of Industry City in 2013 and has revitalized the 16-building campus, which had declined for decades along with the manufacturing and shipping industries in New York City. But the old zoning does not allow for some of the tenants they would like to bring in.

“By agreeing to update regulations that were put in place decades ago, city government will send a strong message that New York is ready to turn the corner and begin its recovery from the worst crises it has ever faced,” said Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “We will continue to make the case for this proposal and look forward to working with the City Council and other community stakeholders as the approval process enters its final phase.”

Menchaca fumed at the commission’s decision.

“Perhaps more disturbing than what the commission said is what it did not say,” he said in a statement. “Nowhere was there an acknowledgement of the Sunset Park community’s deepest concern, which is that the rezoning will cause a rise in rents and displacement of its working-class, immigrant families.”

He claimed it is a “demonstrable fact” that any large-scale rezoning or development displaces people, although the Department of City Planning, which Lago also heads, does not agree. Industry City has no residential component, but Menchaca believes the jobs it will generate will increase competition for housing in Sunset Park, a low-scale community with a subway line running under Fourth Avenue.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]


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