Flushing waterfront vote postponed as opposition mounts

Council subcommittee to consider $1B plan Dec. 7

Council members Francisco Moya and Peter Koo with a rendering of the Flushing waterfront (City Council; Hill West Architects
Council members Francisco Moya and Peter Koo with a rendering of the Flushing waterfront (City Council; Hill West Architects

With opposition to a proposal to transform Flushing’s waterfront growing among City Council members, a vote was called off Wednesday.

The Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises was to weigh in on the $1 billion private development plan, but tabled the matter until Dec. 7. The delay follows a statement issued by a dozen members, including subcommittee chairman Francisco Moya, opposing the Special Flushing Waterfront District project.

Moya tweeted out the statement Tuesday night, saying approval would be a “grave mistake.”

“We believe that it would be irresponsible to approve the application without deep community benefits like real affordable housing and commitments to provide good jobs for local community members,” the letter states.

In a statement to The Real Deal, Moya attributed the vote’s delay to ongoing “negotiations and conversations taking place to hopefully bring this project to a better place that will serve the community.”

The development team — F&T Group, Young Nian Group and United Construction and Development Group — said in a statement that Moya’s letter “ignores the many immediate benefits the Special Flushing Waterfront District will bring to Flushing.”

“Without approval of the district, there will be ZERO affordable housing if the owners choose to develop as-of-right according to in-place zoning,” the developers said in an emailed statement. “It is antithetical of the Council members to support affordable units and simultaneously fight against the very zoning enhancement that would allow affordable housing to be brought to the area.”

The opponents want more income-restricted apartments and are betting that the developers will add more rather than build the shorter project that current zoning allows. Normally those details are negotiated by the local member, in this case Peter Koo, whose decision would be echoed by the rest of the City Council.

But the dozen opponents, who would need 13 more votes to defeat the measure when it reaches the chamber floor, feel Koo has not demanded enough from the developers, who are seeking to create a 29-acre special district along the Flushing waterfront.

The companies would separately develop four sites, creating more than 1,700 residential units, a hotel, retail and public space. F&T is seeking to upzone its site as part of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program and build a 304-unit building, with 75 to 90 apartments set aside as affordable. But the three other sites are seeking only to be taller than currently allowed, not to add units by increasing floor-area ratio.

The proposal has faced local opposition and drawn the ire of two powerful unions, 32BJ SEIU and New York Hotel & Motels Trades Council. The former has raised concerns that the project will accelerate gentrification and the latter has criticized the development team for not committing to hiring union workers.

The developers believe the community’s top priority — the waterfront access that the project would provide — is being lost in the conversation as critics focus on affordability.

The real test for the proposal will be when it heads to the full City Council, which it can do even if Council committees vote against it. Koo’s support for the project figures to carry the day, but the developers might not want to risk a close vote.