Along the banks of the Flushing Creek—one of New York’s most vital and most polluted waterways—dozens of construction cranes loom over the landscape, and half-finished glass towers cast ominous shadows over the water. During heavy rain storms, the waterway regularly swells, flooding pathways in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the streets of Willets Point, and even portions of the Van Wyck Expressway. And after those storms, the city’s overtaxed sewer system often pours raw sewage into the creek and Flushing Bay, causing a stench to waft from its brackish waters. Dead fish occasionally float upon its surface.
But this chunk of Queens real estate has been targeted for development by a consortium of landowners and stakeholders, including a group called the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (FWPCLDC) that has long pushed for revamping the waterfront. Last December, the group quietly submitted plans to redevelop a 29-acre stretch of industrial property along the waterfront, which would include rezoning the northernmost section from manufacturing to residential use.
The proposal calls for creating a Special Flushing Waterfront District, which could accommodate a huge mixed-use development with more than 1,700 apartments, retail, a hotel, and publicly accessible open space (including a riverfront promenade that would connect to the recently opened Skyview Flushing Creek Promenade). Developers also want to integrate a publicly accessible road network with the existing street grid, effectively expanding downtown Flushing. The portion of land that would be rezoned could eventually be home to just under 100 below-market-rate apartments.
While proponents say the development will benefit the community, critics are concerned that development will have “immense impacts” on the fragile condition of the Flushing waterfront.
“Adding significant residential development could overwhelm the Creek’s overburdened infrastructure that already releases over one billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater runoff into the Creek every year,” the Guardians of Flushing Bay, a group of environmental activists, said in a statement. “Though the plan aims to provide critical access to a virtually inaccessible swath of the waterfront, it is essential that this project, if enacted, be implemented in a way that would enhance coastal resiliency, recreation opportunities, ecological stewardship and equitable access to the waterfront.”
The proposal comes as downtown Flushing experiences a development boom: Between 2009 and 2019, the neighborhood saw the second-largest number of condos constructed in New York City after Williamsburg, Brooklyn, according to Nancy Packes Data Services, a real estate consultancy and database provider. Over the past five years, rents have climbed by a whopping 21 percent. Although historically home to a largely working- and middle-class Chinese immigrant population, many of Flushing’s new developments—such as the massive The Grand at Skyview Parc, which has two-bedrooms selling for around $1.27 million—cater to a new wave of immigrants with deep pockets.
With Flushing booming, the waterfront remains the last frontier for developers. But given the size of the proposal from the FWPCLDC, as well as the fact that the Special Flushing Waterfront District is situated in a coastal flood hazard area, critics have argued that an environmental impact study—which is not required for this particular project—must be conducted before the plan moves forward.
“They’re adding three million square feet along the waterfront,” says Tarry Hum, chair of the Queens College Department of Urban Studies. “Can you imagine the environmental impact?
Update: Community Board 7 approves the rezoning anyway
At a tense Monday night meeting, Community Board 7 voted 30-8 to approve a development team’s plan to rezone a large section of land by Flushing Creek.
Dozens of protesters showed up to criticize the land-use application filed by FWRA, a consortium of real estate firms behind the project.
The development group wants to rezone a section of the area so it can construct a 13-tower project with 1,725 residential units and 879 hotel rooms–along with retail and office space–by the waterfront.
The 29-acre property is bound to the north by 36th Avenue, to the east by College Point Boulevard and to the south by Roosevelt Avenue.
FWRA seeks the creation of the Special Flushing Waterfront District and a rezoning in order to move ahead with the proposed plan.
The standing-room only meeting was heated. Activists grew frustrated that they were unable to speak until after FWRA presented its lengthy and time-consuming presentation, which continued on until after 9 p.m.
“Let us speak,” some in the crowd pleaded during FWRA’s presentation.
CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty walked into the crowd and tried to hush some of the unsatisfied people who were waiting for their turn to speak.
In a video of the meeting, one frustrated woman tells Kelty, “Why are you saying this is a public hearing? This is not a public hearing and you know it.”
The footage shows the CB 7 chairman saying, “It is a public hearing,” uttering a few more words that are drowned out by other noise, and then appearing to lunge at the woman to steal her phone before being stopped by police officers and others.
“Let us speak! Let us speak!” the group chanted as Kelty walked away.