booking ahead

A Year After Amazon Picked LIC, Suspicions Cloud Future

The Anable Basin in Long Island City.
The Anable Basin in Long Island City. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

It’s been a year since Amazon tapped Long Island City for it headquarters — and nine months since the online retail giant jilted New York on Valentine’s Day.

Now developers with active interest in roughly 28 acres around the area have launched a “listening tour,” hoping to avoid a repeat of the fierce community opposition that helped sour Amazon on the deal.

Meanwhile, one community coalition used Wednesday’s one-year anniversary of Amazon’s announcement to renew its call for a “moratorium” on any “major” development or rezoning in Queens “until the city’s planning process is reformed to lock developers out… and center community voices.”

They’re suspicious of conversations, involving developers and elected officials, already happening behind closed doors.

At stake is the future of the LIC waterfront near the Anable Basin, an inlet of the East River, which became a battleground where Amazon opponents, fearing gentrification, squared off against supporters who pointed to a potential economic boon for New Yorkers.

The fallout is manifested in the wariness that permeates the neighborhood as the developers and some grassroots community leaders forge ahead on seemingly diverging paths, with some political leaders in the middle.

Developers Press Forward

Last week, a trio of real estate firms — TF Cornerstone, Simon Baron Development, and L&L Mag — announced “Your LIC,” an engagement effort featuring four public meetings and an online conversation to solicit community feedback about the waterfront’s future.

The first meeting, scheduled for Nov. 21, will cover economic empowerment and career development, and will be led by former LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow and Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound.

The three developers were “brought together by the City Council to plan comprehensively and collaboratively across their waterfront properties,” the Your LIC site reads.

From the Your LIC website
From the Your LIC website Photo: YourLIC.nyc

L&L owns a five-acre plot at 44-02 Vernon Blvd., and Simon Baron owns the Paragon Paint Building at 45-40 Vernon Blvd. Prior to Amazon abandoning its HQ2 deal, TF Cornerstone was set to develop two city-owned sites along 44th Drive as part of the tech giant’s campus.

Amazon’s would-be LIC headquarters would have also sat upon 12.7 acres owned by the Plaxall family.

Plaxall has opted not to participate in Your LIC. Managing Director Paula Kirby said the company remains “committed to pursuing a vision that builds on LIC’s history as a center of innovation and creativity, and to working with the city and community on a plan to make Anable Basin an integral part of the future LIC waterfront.”

City Officials Get Involved

Developers and city officials from agencies, including the Economic Development Corporation, already have convened in closed-door meetings to discuss waterfront plans with various Council members and individually with multiple Queens community stakeholders, according to Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) said he has sat in on two meetings alongside Johnson, representatives from EDC and the Department of City Planning.

Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer grills Amazon representatives about the HQ2 deal during a City Hall hearing, Jan. 30, 2019.
Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer grills Amazon representatives about the HQ2 deal during a City Hall hearing, Jan. 30, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In a statement, a Council spokesperson said: “One of the main problems we had with Amazon’s proposal was the lack of community engagement. We’re happy that these stakeholders are being proactive, we look forward to being active participants in the process.”

EDC could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Your LIC did not address an inquiry about how many private meetings have occurred to date, instead stating that developers have met with “dozens of community groups and organizations over the last few months.”

‘Present at the Table’

Sabina Omerhodzic, a member of LIC Coalition, a progressive community group, called Your LIC project an example of a backwards process of soliciting community input.

“We should have the community create this plan with the city agencies and then we look for developers who will execute that plan the best,” said Omerhodzic. “But we still go the opposite way, we have developers approach communities with their plans that are already made.”

She believes that moratorium, proposed by the Justice For All Coalition, should at least be discussed.

“Communities should be present at the table from the very beginning,” Omerhodzic said. “Why are they meeting with developers without us?”

An Amazon H2Q protest earlier this year
An Amazon H2Q protest earlier this year Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

In a statement this week, Justice For All Coalition made its case in much stronger terms, casting an eye on publicly owned land at the former Amazon development site.

“We stand firmly against any for-profit development on the publicly owned land north of the Anable Basin and throughout the city. We see this luxury hyper-development in our region and across the city as a warning for Queens,” the statement read.

“We will not allow the piecemeal destruction of our homes, communities and our borough.”

The coalition, which claims members from LIC, Astoria, Woodside and Sunnyside, contends a moratorium is necessary to foster “nonprofit, community-led and community-centered development on the Anable Basin site,” such as for a school or a community land trust.

This past spring, the Hunters Point Civic Association hosted numerous community visioning sessions to draft a “community request for proposals” for Anable Basin development.

The group called for a “unified, holistic plan” across the four properties and early local engagement in the planning process — a nod to what critics called Amazon’s community outreach failure.

The Hunters Point Civic Association was not invited to any of the Your LIC meetings hosted so far by the city or the developers.

Brent O’Leary, the civic association’s president, said that the forthcoming developer-led workshops appear to be “a way for them to control the process, keep it secret and then claim they took community feedback.”

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.

Think Locally, Act Locally

You just finished reading one of the more than 500 stories produced by THE CITY since we launched April 3.

Our team strongly believes that democracy begins with local news, which is crucial to holding politicians and other decision-makers accountable. We also believe local news should be free and accessible to everyone. That’s why we don’t have a paywall, charge a subscription fee or clutter our articles with ads that have nothing to do with you or our city.

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to gain the generous support of leading funders who believe in our mission at a time when local news in New York and beyond has taken some staggering hits. We’ve assembled a team of 18 dedicated journalists, joining the growing ranks of more than 200 nonprofit newsrooms that have sprung up across the country.

Support on all levels is essential to our long-term success and growth.

We’re in the midst of our first-ever membership campaign. Because you value local, independent accountability reporting, please support us today.

We need your help to make THE CITY all it can be.

DONATE TODAY!