City Planning approves Special Flushing Waterfront District

Controversial rezoning plan heads to City Council

A rendering of the Flushing waterfront and City Planning commissioner Michelle de la Uz (Rendering via Hill West Architects; New York Housing Conference)
A rendering of the Flushing waterfront and City Planning commissioner Michelle de la Uz (Rendering via Hill West Architects; New York Housing Conference)

A controversial 13-tower project planned for Flushing’s waterfront is one step closer to approval.

The City Planning Commission on Wednesday voted in favor of moving forward with the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal, moving the project on to the City Council for a vote. Overall, the project is expected to include more than 1,700 residential units, 879 hotel rooms and more than 680,000 square feet of commercial space.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, CPC Chair Marisa Lago said that the proposal was the culmination of more than two decades of mulling the waterfront’s future and will prove key in helping the city as it “recovers and emerges stronger” from the pandemic.

The proposal would create a 29-acre special district along the Queens waterfront and increase permitted density on one of four sites. The four project sites would be developed separately by F&T Group, Young Nian Group and United Construction and Development Group. As part of the proposal, a new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing area would be established on F&T Group’s parcel. The developer plans to build a 304-unit residential building, where 75 to 90 apartments would be set aside as affordable.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, who voted against the proposal, said that the number of affordable units is “laughable considering the size of this project.”

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In an interview with The Real Deal this week, Richard Siu, chief investment officer of F&T Group, noted that without the zoning changes, the developers will likely opt to move forward with projects permitted as-of-right. He said the community would lose out on improvements to public spaces and infrastructure, as well as the larger plan connecting downtown Flushing with the waterfront. The result, he said, would be isolated projects akin to Sky View Parc, a nearby luxury condo development.

The project has faced considerable community pushback. The MinKwon Center for Community Action and Chhaya CDC filed a lawsuit in June seeking to block the proposal until an environmental review of the 29-acre area is conducted. During a hearing in September, other community groups expressed concerns that the proposal would accelerate gentrification of the area.

“The loudest people in the room [opposing the proposal] aren’t coming up with any solutions,” Siu said. “We don’t think this is going to gentrify the area.”

The development team has indicated that it is still working with Flushing City Council member Peter Koo’s office. Koo’s approval will likely be crucial to securing support from the broader Council, since members traditionally vote according to the local member’s wishes on land-use matters. A representative for Koo said in a statement that the council member “believes the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal has many merits that would provide our community with tangible benefits we wouldn’t have under an as-of-right scenario.”

Siu referred to the vote as a “litmus test” for development in the city, following the defeat of the Industry City rezoning.

“In order for the city to get out of its financial straits, it needs to promote growth, not prevent growth,” he said.