Biz, labor call on Corey Johnson to save Industry City rezoning

Momentum for $1B plan after local Council member Carlos Menchaca opposes it

Industry City with Carlos Menchaca, Corey Johnson and Gary LaBarbera (Industry City, Getty)
Industry City with Carlos Menchaca, Corey Johnson and Gary LaBarbera (Industry City, Getty)

Organized labor and business leaders are pushing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is expected to run for mayor, to save the controversial rezoning of Industry City.

In a letter to Johson, representatives from 17 groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York, the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and 32BJ SEIU, urged support of the rezoning, pointing to the project’s promised delivery of 20,000 new jobs. The proposal has met resistance from Sunset Park’s local Council member Carlos Menchaca.

“Industry City represents a model for the type of privately financed, sustainable development that the City Council must encourage in the post-pandemic era, when government resources are severely limited and the need for new job creation is enormous,” the letter states.

The letter indicates that the Industry City developers have won support from key labor groups in the city. Mayoral candidates traditionally vie for support from these groups, a fact that is not lost on Johnson, who is expected to run in the 2021 election.

Proponents of the rezoning already got a boost this month when Council members Ritchie Torres and Donovan Richards penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News arguing that an exception be made to the council’s tradition of member deference, in which the 51-member chamber parrots the local council member’s vote on land use decisions. A third member, Robert Cornegy Jr., then penned a similar op-ed, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, when asked about the project, said member deference is not a hard-and-fast rule.

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Last week, Menchaca sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to vote against the rezoning. He criticized de Blasio for failing to fund affordable housing in Sunset Park as a condition of the rezoning.

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He also noted that while Industry City developers agreed to eliminate hotels from their proposal to rezone the 35-acre campus and signed a community benefits agreement with Sunset Park residents, city law does not require them to abide by these pledges.

“There is nothing in the zoning laws that obligates landowners to deliver on any of the plans they offer,” he wrote. “This distinction between plans and their accountability is critical. Accountability is what separates serious projects from gambles on our constituents’ homes, jobs, and lives.”

In a separate letter released Monday, the Citizens Budget Commission announced that it is launching an “in-depth” study of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp. President Andrew Rein said the group is concerned that at times the process “serves as an impediment, rather than as an instrument of improvement, to proposals needed to spur job creation and develop desperately-needed housing.”

“In its determination, the Council should carefully consider how best to balance community needs with citywide interests, which include the potential for job creation with no direct public investment required,” Rein’s letter states, referring to Industry City.

Unlike the Amazon campus proposal for Long Island City that was withdrawn last year, the Industry City plan does not call for subsidies. However, some Sunset Park residents fear it will trigger gentrification and they will not get any of the jobs Industry City creates.

The City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the rezoning Wednesday. The proposal then moves on to the City Council.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at