BY LYNN EDMONDS
Community Board 7 brought together city agencies, developers and community members to discuss potential impacts of the rezoning and development anticipated for Flushing West at a public forum last Tuesday.
The meeting highlighted the incredible amount of coordination and planning that would need to go into development in the area, which could see about 1,000 new units in the neighborhood at 13 projected development sites. An additional 13 sites and 1,000 units are not likely to be developed before 2025.
If the planned rezoning from a industrial into a residential area passes a City Council vote several months down the line, Flushing West will be one of the first neighborhoods to see Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plans, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, implemented.
But the most existential concern was whether the development could even happen in the first place.
Developers from F&T Group and Triple Star said their banks told them their projected profit margins were not large enough for them to approve loans.
MIH does not have any inbuilt subsidies for developers. In many neighborhoods, however, developers may be able to negotiate for additional height or other concessions to help them finance the affordable housing, if need be. But because of Flushing Wests’ proximity to LaGuardia airport, building up is not an option, and due to the high water table, neither is building down. CB 7 Chairman of the Land Use Committee Joseph Sweeney said that he was worried about how that would impact developer’s desire and ability to build.
“If it doesn’t work for the developers, it’s not going to work at all,” Sweeney said. “I’m afraid that you’re going to end up with a dust bowl.”
The 421-a tax breaks for affordable housing are also no longer in effect, something that could further hurt developers’ bottom line all around the city.
While Sweeney lauded the efforts to build affordable housing, he did express concerns about the impact the development would have on a neighborhood which many believe lacks adequate infrastructure for the current population.
He said a top concern was traffic, congestion and parking in busy downtown Flushing.
Overcrowding on the 7 train as a result of more people was another concern.
“You can’t get on the subway as it is,” one board member said.
State legislators, state Senator Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) also raised concern overcrowding on the 7 train at their own press conference on Flushing West last month.
Pollution in Flushing Creek was also a serious concern. Advocates say that the creek stinks and would be unpleasant to live near because of toxic sediments from combined sewer overflows that have settled on the creek bottom. They say the area should be dredged and the city needs to increase its sewage capacity before even more people can live in the area.
Sweeney criticized quick fixes like chlorination to kill microbes.
“They’re creating an environmental disaster by not doing the right thing and taking the cheap route,” he said.
Representatives from city planning said they were pressuring the DEP to take action for more permanent solutions.
Construction could also have an impact on small businesses. Sweeney said he was worried about how temporary loss of parking on Municipal Lot 3, where the city plans to develop a 232-unit 100 percent affordable housing complex, would affect local businesses near 41stAvenue.
“If you take that away that is going to really kill the area off,” he said.
But an even bigger concern was the school system. School District 25 needs 5,201 seats in order to eliminate overcrowding, a 2015 report from the Independent Budget Office found. That number would only eliminate existing overcrowding, and more seats would be needed to accommodate future growth in the area.
John Young, director of the Queens Office of City Planning, said at the meeting that his agency was in close contact with the School Construction Authority to plan for future need.
“Be clear, it is being taken into consideration,” Young said.
Young stressed that city planner were carefully thinking about Flushing West rezoning and development and that they aimed to make the new community, as well as downtown Flushing, a well-designed, pleasant place to live.
He added that his agency was also in contact with the MTA, the Department of Environmental Protection, developers and all other stakeholders. City planning also held a dozen public meetings to ask for community input.
Board member Kim Ohanian wanted to know if the city ever determined that a particular area couldn’t handle any more development.
“Did you guys ever done a study that says that’s it, we cannot put another body in this area?” she asked John Young.
The board and Young laughed off the question as a rhetorical one.