Last week, the City Planning Commission gave its approval to Flushing Commons, a controversial, large-scale development project that has been in the works for years.
“[The] vote...moves us one step closer to reinvigorating downtown Flushing,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement. “The transformation of an underutilized five-acre parking lot into a mixed-use urban center will establish a new center of activity for this vibrant community.”
The project's developer, TDC Development, now only needs the approval of the City Council to move forward. The City Council can take up to two months to review the project before voting on it.
“The New York City Planning Commission undertook a comprehensive, detailed review of every aspect of this project and its planning, so their stamp of approval is incredibly important and gratifying,” said Michael Meyer of TDC Development.
Both Community Board 7 and Borough President Helen Marshall support the project, as does Flushing's new councilman, Peter Koo.
The 1.1 million-square-foot development will include over 600 upscale residential condominiums, new retail and office space, a 1,600-space parking garage, and a new home for the Flushing YMCA, as well as the Green at Flushing Commons, 1.5 acres of landscaped public open space.
In his statement, the mayor also touted a portion of the project that will provide 140 units of affordable housing, to be developed and administered by neighboring Macedonian African Methodist Episcopal Church.
But not every one supports the project. Business owners in the area and various groups from the neighborhoods surrounding the project argue that the scale of Flushing Commons is much too big, and will overwhelm the already bustling downtown area.
Local business owners also fear that the disruption in parking while construction occurs will mean the end of their businesses, as their customers decide to shop elsewhere where parking is more convenient.
They are also concerned that the number of parking spaces available to the public in Flushing Commons will be much fewer than the 1,200-plus spots currently in Municipal Lot 1, as well as be much more expensive, further hurting their bottom line once the project is complete.
“This project, if it goes in the manner as it appears to be going, will be the death knell for the small businesses in the Flushing community,” said Richard Lipsky, a member of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development, at a recent rally. “Merchants will have to survive through construction for three years, and they are already struggling.”
Meanwhile, Paul Graziano, an advisor on urban planning issues and spokesperson for the umbrella organization known as REDO (Reconsider and Evaluate Development Opportunities at Municipal Lot #1), stated that "the organizations that comprise REDO, which include approximately 10,000 families and hundreds of businesses in the greater Flushing area, are disappointed - but not surprised - at the decision by the City Planning Commission to approve the proposed Flushing Commons development without any changes that might make the project more palatable to the residents, businesses and property owners that will be affected.
"This is entirely consistent with the Bloomberg administration's policy of having one agency support another - the New York City Economic Development Corporation, not TDC/Rockefeller Group, is the applicant - but that doesn't make it any less inappropriate,” he added.
Graziano argued that many of the community benefits that were included in the original proposal are no longer part of the project.
"The fact that significant promises were made by the developer and the Bloomberg administration in order to win the bidding process more than four years ago, and these promises have been stripped from the current proposal, speaks to the contempt that TDC/Rockefeller Group and this administration has for downtown Flushing and the surrounding communities,” he said.
Graziano said the opposition groups would be well represented at the upcoming City Council hearings.
"We look forward to the upcoming hearings at the New York City Council and will be sure to make our concerns heard to the council members that are most affected by what will be a truly disastrous development, should it be approved in its current form," he said.