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City Planning looks to boost LIC business

Under the proposal, stores, offices and residences would be added to...

By Dustin Brown

More than 20 people testified before the city Planning Commission last week to weigh in on a rezoning proposal that would transform Long Island City into a central business district.

Under the proposal, stores, offices and residences would be added to the 37 blocks being considered for rezoning, which at present are largely occupied by manufacturing companies.

The rezoning plan is the centerpiece of the city’s long-term redevelopment blueprint for Long Island City, where convenience to buses and trains and proximity to Manhattan would enable it to attract businesses fleeing the city’s escalating rents.

The commission is expected to act on the rezoning proposal at its scheduled public meeting May 23, Queens Office of City Planning Director John Young said.

Although support was strong for the rezoning plan, many of those who testified requested that the commission protect the area’s manufacturers from being pushed out by more lucrative office tenants.

Adam Friedman, executive director of the New York Industrial Retention Network, said he considers Long Island City to be a “logical place” for the growth in office space. But he worried that the rezoning would threaten manufacturers in Long Island City, “one of the most dense concentration of manufacturing jobs in the city.”

Friedman was joined by other representatives of the manufacturing industry in asking the commission “to prohibit the conversion of manufacturing space to office and other non-manufacturing uses.”

“There is a great chance that this rezoning plan will prompt building owners on the periphery of the rezoned area to hike up real estate prices, evict manufacturers and convert industrial buildings into more profitable office spaces,” said Jonathan Bowles, the research director of the Center for an Urban Future.

Young stressed that manufacturing uses will still be allowed under the rezoning, which was designed to foster a combination of manufacturing, commercial and residential uses. But he said the commission is not planning to include specialized regulations that favor any one type of development.

The rezoning has very strong support among landlords in the area, who argue that higher density will benefit all businesses in the area.

Long Island City property owner Kevin Fogel said he favors increasing the maximum building height to 12 stories in most parts of the rezoned area, which now have many five-story structures.

“Basically the higher the building, the more people you can pack into it,” Fogel said. “It creates a higher demand for real estate in the building, and the people who work in the building will use services in the area.”

Although Fogel said he is interested in converting some of his space to “more profitable use — and in this particular environment that would tend to be office space,” he stressed that he would not try to drive out manufacturers.

“I as a landlord have no objections to manufacturing operations in my building, and other property owners in the area feel the same way,” he said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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