Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Whistling Past the Flushing Graveyard

Is the Flushing Commons project, a development that is expected to get the planning commission’s rubber stamp of approval today, literally whistling past the graveyard? It appears so, at least according to a story in the current edition of the NY Daily News: “Human remains from a 19th-century Methodist graveyard may still be buried beneath a Flushing parking lot slated for a controversial development, a Daily News investigation has found. Research suggests 150 parishioners were interred between 1846 and 1857 at the proposed site of Flushing Commons, a housing and retail complex to be voted on today by the City Planning Commission.

We’re not sure if this archeological finding will be a real deal killer, but we do know that, if built, Flushing Commons will not be a destination that people will be dying to get to-that is, if they can get there at all given the kind of traffic (and lack of local parking) that the development will generate. That is why the community will be out in force at noon today at city hall in order to protest the unsustainable development-one that lacks affordable housing, and will drain the availability of public parking that is the lifeblood for the –at least for now-still vibrant 900 strong neighborhood small businesses.

The presser and rally today will be keynoted by former council member Tony Avella who is running for the state senate seat now held by Frank Padavan. Avella strongly believes that the Flushing Commons project will overwhelm an already overly dense downtown flushing. As he told us,”The project is way too large for the proposed location, and given that, and its history, the site may be a once and future graveyard for the Flushing community and the small businesses that make it such a unique destination for people all over the city.”

There are a number of crucial issues that go into making the current EDC-sponsored development untenable for Flushing. What follows is the Talking Points Memo for the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development, the group that will lead the presser today and has been organized to fight the ill-conceived plan:

                                            Talking Point Memo on Flushing Commons Development

                                                       Considerations for City Council Members

1- Business Impact: Parking is the lifeblood of the entire small business community. The EIS provides no analysis whatsoever of the likely negative effect of the planned parking rate increases on area merchants.

Furthermore the EIS uses contradictory analyses when evaluating traffic impact and socioeconomic impact. When evaluating traffic impacts it says there will be only 36,000 sq ft of destination retail vs. 4 times as many sq ft when analyzing the effect on local merchants, the premise being that destination retail “doesn’t compete” with local merchants. (Citations to the EIS available)

2- Parking: A study has been performed showing that the planned parking for the project will be fully utilized by the uses planned specifically for the development. Therefore, there will be no parking available for clients of local professionals (doctors, lawyers, accounting firms, etc) or local merchants (available upon request). The City has stripped back parking to 1,600 spaces despite an agreement between Deputy Mayor Doctoroff and then CM John Liu (copy available upon request).

3- Parking Affordability: The Queens Borough President, CB 7 and the Liu-Doctoroff agreement all call for caps on parking rates. The current proposal eliminates all caps on parking after two years of operation. If voted as proposed the developer will control virtually all the parking north of Roosevelt Ave., the heart of the retail, commercial district and over 60% of all the parking in Flushing.

4- Community Opposition: Queens Civic Congress and many other local civic groups oppose the project as currently proposed (list of organizations available upon request.) There is, in fact, widespread community opposition to the Flushing Commons plan.

5- Traffic: While the EIS projects that there will be gridlock in many intersections in Flushing, traffic that will likely spill over into surrounding communities-it, at the same time, seriously underestimates the real traffic that the project will generate; and the nightmare environmental impacts that will follow. That is because the EIS doesn’t properly consider the effect of the several new and projected developments, including the Willets Point megaproject (full report available upon request); and uses outdated models for its baseline assumptions.

6- Affordable housing: The developer is providing no affordable housing. The site will contain 140 units supported by another developer.

7- Bait and Switch: The RFP contained numerous community benefits and the developer was selected on that basis. Many of those conditions, some very material to our community have now disappeared (analysis available).

8- Contingency Planning: Several groups, including the Flushing BID have asked that the final agreement with the developer contain a reasonable performance timetable and the City’s ability to repossess the property in the event of non-performance. Our community is deeply concerned about a project that is stalled for whatever reason at some point.

9- Size and Bulk: The project is far too dense and far too large for our community. It is both inappropriate and the source of much of the traffic and parking issues.

WHAT MAKES SENSE: Alternatives to Unsustainable Development

1- Eliminate the retail/commercial portion of the project, which is the source of the gridlock.

2- Add back the previously agreed components of the project including the amount of parking and the cap on parking rates in order to save the small business community

3- Since the project will involve the conveyance of land at a below-market price and include other subsidies, require that the developer include a living wage in any of his leases.

4- Require a timetable with remedies to repossess the project in the event of default by the developer.

5- Alternatively: Require that the project be rebid after a thorough independent analysis of its effects and the needs of the community