City Council approves Special Flushing Waterfront District

Project includes 1,700 residential units, 879 hotel rooms

A rendering of the Flushing waterfront and Council member Peter Koo (Rendering via Hill West Architects; New York City Council)
A rendering of the Flushing waterfront and Council member Peter Koo (Rendering via Hill West Architects; New York City Council)

UPDATED, Dec. 10 2020, 4:15 p.m.: The City Council on Thursday voted in favor of a contested $2 billion project planned for Flushing’s waterfront.

The council approved the Special Flushing Waterfront District, a series of zoning changes that pave the way for a 13-building mixed-use development, which will include more than 1,700 residential units and 879 hotel rooms, along with retail and public space.

The proposal was repeatedly delayed as officials sought guarantees that the developers would hire union workers and boost the project’s affordable apartments — and ultimately succeeded.

On Tuesday evening, the development team reached a deal with 32BJ and the New York Hotel & Motels Trades Council. The terms of that agreement haven’t been made public, but it managed to change the minds of multiple City Council members who initially opposed the project.

“After decades of false starts and stops to activate the waterfront, we could not be more honored to be part of the solution,” the development team said in a statement. “Today and together, we move Flushing forward.”

The development team — F&T Group, Young Nian Group and United Construction and Development Group — agreed to include 90 affordable housing units on one of the sites, which is being upzoned under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. The team will also engage with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development over the next three years to maximize affordable housing at the project.

When asked if talks with HPD are likely to lead to more affordable housing within the district, given the scarcity of city subsidies currently available, Speaker Corey Johnson said that will likely depend on what kind of state and federal funding the city receives. He noted that he doesn’t think the city will make a full recovery from its pandemic-related economic woes in the next three years.

Thursday’s vote followed approvals earlier in the week by the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and its Committee on Land Use.

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Flushing Council member Peter Koo praised the project as an “economic shot in the arm” that will connect the neighborhood to the waterfront. The developers estimate that the project will generate $116 million in property tax revenue and create more than 3,700 permanent jobs.

The approval follows more than two decades of city officials and developers mulling the future of Flushing’s waterfront. Most recently, the city withdrew a plan in 2016, amid concerns that the height of the proposed buildings would interfere with flight patterns out of LaGuardia Airport.

Opponents of the project argued that it will exacerbate gentrification in the neighborhood. Council member Carlos Menchaca criticized the development, saying that it features a privately-owned waterfront with limited public access, and consists of mostly market-rate housing.

“Spending 10 years on a bad plan doesn’t make it a good plan,” he said. “It is egregious to argue that this project is for the people of Flushing.”

Koo responded that Menchaca was incorrect about the limited access to the waterfront and scolded him for speaking out “when you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Community groups filed a lawsuit against City Planning in June, alleging that developers wrongfully skipped out on conducting an environmental review of the project. William Spisak, director of Housing Justice at Chhaya Community Development Corp., one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said his organization is considering adding the City Council to the complaint. He said the concessions made by the development team ahead of Thursday’s vote were inadequate.

“It does nothing to address our concerns about affordable housing, the eventual displacement and gentrification of residents in the area,” he said.

UPDATED: This story was updated with a statement from the development team, as well as a statement from William Spisak of Chhaya Community Development Corp.