Public Scoping Meeting Held Concerning LIC Innovation Center

There was a meeting held twice on Monday last week and called a “draft scope of work for the preparation of an environmental impact statement” (EIS).  It was presented at the CUNY Law School by TF Cornerstone Inc. and the New York Economic Development Corporation and was related to an imposing project on and near the East River that bears the appellation, Long Island City Innovation Center or LICIC.  It is proposed to be built on two development sites and include residential units, office and business incubator space, light manufacturing, workspace for artists, retail space and community facility space.  Also in the plan is a new public school.  The school’s design and programming are in the early stages, city and TFC representatives state, though they say it will be about 82,000 gross square feet (gsf) in size and have approximately 536 seats.  The size of the entire project would be 1.75 million gsf.  

Into the bargain, existing operations of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), currently located on the development sites, will be moved to a relocation site at 31-28 12th St., several blocks to the north and well past the Queensboro Bridge.

This was explained to the afternoon (3:00 p.m.) and early evening (6:00 p.m.) audiences, who, following the explanation, were allowed to come to a microphone in the law school auditorium and make inquiries, commentary and recommendations to the presenters. 

Whether by design or accident, enthusiasm and gratitude were expressed by the first wave of speakers (in the afternoon session, at least), doubt and denunciation by those who followed them.

The speakers from the city and TF Cornerstone recited some dry language about what had to be done before construction could begin, including the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.  However necessary it was that all the preparatory tasks be performed before any of the components of LCIC could be built, the speakers spoke with confidence and were eventually singing praises of the great and needed improvements that would be started and finished on the waterfront and inland sites by the time of the “build year,” or 2024, when the grand project would be built out.

John McMillan of TFC said that among the buildings promised were a four-floor school; a new home for the Joyce Theatre (currently located in Manhattan) for the presentation of dance; and a 400,000 square foot office building (to be built tall and narrow, to lessen space on the ground, McMillan said).  Included is Anable Cove, a natural inlet where the water is shallow and aquatic creatures can thrive. The Water’s Edge, the restaurant formerly operating at the end of 44th Drive, would be returning.  The development sites would be lifted four to five feet above sea level and sewers would be built where none existed before.  Everyone could in the end have a public school, affordable housing and industrial retention among the benefits, the development advocates said.  

The speakers from the audience were called to the microphone three names at a time.  First to speak was Ron Requinto of 32BJ SEIU.  He expressed complete support for LICIC, singling out affordable housing as a leading virtue.  A woman, another 32BJ speaker, said her first employment in America was cleaning offices.  Now, she has excellent living space in Long Island City and believes the efforts of her union will be a housing benefit to many others like her.  Renaldo Torres, another union man, denounced bad developers, before saying TFC is a far cry from them.  He said 2,000 workers are likely to be employed on a permanent basis if LICIC becomes a reality.

Evelyn Walsh called TFC “terrific partners” with her services for the elderly agency in Hunters Point South.  Jonah Senser of Sunnyside Community Services said he is working with TFC on a job creation center.  Michael Papagianakis, vice president, public affairs of the New York Building Congress, praised the exemplary way public land is being developed.  Bret Swanson of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said priced-out small manufacturing might get another chance through LICIC.  QCC supports the project “wholeheartedly,” he said. 

Brian Coleman of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) said he is looking forward to growing 50,000 square feet of small manufacturing space in LIC.  Brian Lozano of Tech LIC said he was “excited” to support LICIC because of its incubator space for start-ups.

Andrea Skir, a modern dancer, said she needs affordable rehearsal space.  She was in a company that had to disband, so she joined the Joyce Theatre in 2016.  She wants to create a dance center available to all dance companies.  Rich Nieto, founder and owner of three

Sweetleaf coffee shops in LIC, said he has TFC as a landlord and trusts its creation of LICIC, as does Shi Li, a restaurateur and TFC tenant.  

A reply to all this positivity had to come, and Peter Johnson, an LIC resident with a strong distrust of big development, got up to say that LICIC typifies how developers’ inconsistencies, ambiguities and untruths persist and how public land is repeatedly used for private gain.  He warned that TFC’s confidence about protecting Anable Cove was foolish, because “water seeks its own level.”  A man identifying himself as a musician and not opposed to spaces for the arts said the larger consideration must be for protection from storms, which is utterly lacking here.  A moratorium on all projects, he said; restore wetlands.

Worry about natural disaster was joined by health concerns.  After saying that TFC and every promoter of LCIC shouldn’t fool themselves that this development is different from the ventures in gigantism that have preceded it, Maine Bradley said that storms will batter the local residents and overworked sewerage will bring them serious illness.  TFC can promise an entirely new sewer system for LICIC, but it will only add to the local burden.  Already, rainstorms bring raw sewage into the riverside parks, she said.  Another resident, Eliza Anderson, said that it’s insane to build on failing infrastructure, and right now, “We’re living in a sewer.”  

Sheila Lewandowski, a Community Board 2 vice president, said she is not speaking as a board member but as an LIC resident when she says that the brilliance of the plan is defeated by the infrastructure on which it must rest.  She also said that the transfer of DOT facilities to the vicinity of Queensbridge Houses would only restore the traffic congestion that had been lifted when the Department of Sanitation garage was at last removed.