Sunset Park Stops Industry City Rezoning Scheme

After intense public resistance from the Sunset Park community, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball announced Sept. 22 that he was dropping his application to have the city rezone the 35-acre industrial complex on the Brooklyn waterfront.

The $1 billion project was the largest private rezoning application in the city’s history. It would have added more than 3 million square feet of commercial real estate and converted former warehouses and lofts to office, retail, and academic space. Industry City leaders, who first proposed the rezoning in March 2015, have said they do not intend to refile.
Opponents said the rezoning would have accelerated gentrification in the largely Latino Sunset Park neighborhood and not brought the jobs the developers promised. City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who represents the waterfront area from Sunset Park to Red Hook, had announced his opposition in July.

The final blow came earlier in the day on Sept. 22, when several Brooklyn elected officials—among them four of the six House members representing the borough, including Nydia Velazquez and Hakeem Jeffries; state Senators Zellnor Myrie and Julia Salazar; and Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon and Diana Richardson—sent a letter telling the Council that the rezoning would exacerbate displacement of renters and eliminate one of the city’s few remaining manufacturing hubs.

“Industry City does not need a rezoning to bring jobs,” they said. Given the pandemic, they added, “it is even more important now that we give our constituents more, not less influence in how we rebuild and restore their lives and livelihoods.”

The Protect Sunset Park group, which collected more than 3,500 signatures on a petition against the rezoning, proclaimed a victory “against racist city planning” that was “truly a feat of everyday people power.”

Kimball blamed “the current political environment and a lack of leadership.” There had been a few rumblings that the City Council might try to override Menchaca’s opposition, abandoning the usual practice of deferring to the local member on developments in their district, but they never gelled.

The fight over the Industry City rezoning was also about community control of local spaces. Local activists and elected officials did not believe that they had been given adequate time to review the plan and decide whether it deserved approval.

Many saw the proposed rezoning as emblematic of broader demographic shifts in Brooklyn over the past several decades, with space previously devoted to manufacturing earmarked for more restaurants and big-box and luxury retail. Sunset Park organizations like UPROSE, a largely Latino environmental organization that promotes sustainability and community resilience, argued that it would be the gentrification of a working-class space, inevitably leading to higher rents and more displacement of longtime residents.

The developers promised that the rezoning would bring thousands of jobs, but community leaders argued that those would be mostly low-wage service jobs in retail and restaurants, unlike the manufacturing work that once filled the space and paid a living wage.

This is not the first time Sunset Park activists have won a fight against proposed changes to the makeup of Industry City. In 1993, residents blocked the city government’s plans to build a sludge-disposal plant on the site, successfully arguing environmental and economic concerns. But they failed to stop the federal government from building the Metropolitan Detention Center prison, which opened there in 1993.

UPROSE has long advocated that the Industry City site be developed to emphasize “green manufacturing.” The group’s “The Grid” plan envisions “26,000 well-paid climate jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, construction, and sustainable manufacturing,” and using the industrial sector “as the economic engine to build for climate adaptation and mitigation.”

“[It] will realize tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, and these jobs are all part of building and moving our economy away from an economy dependent on fossil fuels,” UPROSE energy democracy coordinator Summer Sandoval told the Brooklyn Paper in late September.

César Zúñiga, chair of Sunset Park’s Community Board 7, said that the city needs to develop a unified plan for all of west Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront. “Instead of talking about these one-off projects, let’s talk about how to do this more comprehensively and in a more systematic way,” he told the Brooklyn Paper.