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McCaffrey calls for business protection

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After months of hearings and the recent approval of the City Planning Commission, a proposal to rezone Long Island City may face revision as City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) demands that manufacturers receive better protection under the plan.

The proposal, which has been in the pipeline since 1993, calls for the rezoning of a 37-block area in Long Island City for “mixed use,” meaning a combination of commercial, industrial and residential development. City officials expect the rezoning to create a central business district that will attract businesses being pushed out of Manhattan by high rents and tight spaces.

Although offices, industry and residences are supposed to coexist under the rezoning proposal, the plan has been criticized for failing to include mechanisms to protect the industrial sector, which has historically held a strong foothold in Long Island City.

While McCaffrey praised the proposal for making the area available for much-needed office space, he said “it is of equal importance that we maintain the manufacturing base in Long Island City.”

McCaffrey heard testimony about the rezoning at two hearings last week and this week by the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, which he chairs. The rezoning was passed in May by the City Planning Commission and will be signed into law once it receives the approval of the City Council.

The subcommittee was scheduled to make recommendations to the full Land Use Committee Thursday morning.

With offices commanding higher rents than industrial spaces, many speculate manufacturers will be pushed out by landlords interested in pursuing more lucrative office tenants.

“Thousands upon thousands of employees should not be driven out because these jobs are important jobs and high-paying jobs,” McCaffrey said.

The councilman issued an open invitation for people to suggest concrete mechanisms that could be incorporated into the rezoning proposal to protect manufacturers in the area.

Ronald Shiffman, director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, testified at the second hearing Tuesday that Long Island City is home to 55,000 industrial jobs, of which 23,125 are in manufacturing — over 17,000 of them directly relating to making products.

In his testimony, Shiffman called on the city to implement financial assistance mechanisms to protect manufacturers, which he described as “silent but crucial partners to other sectors of our economy.”

He also encouraged the City Council to reject modifications the Department of City Planning made to the original zoning proposal, including a reduction in the minimum height of street walls and an increase in the allowable number of parking spaces.

By decreasing the size of the street wall from between 60 and 100 feet to 23 feet on narrow streets, Shiffman said the Department of City Planning was encouraging the construction of office buildings with high central towers rising from wide low bases, which would replace the loft-style buildings currently located in the area.

McCaffrey also voiced concerns about the adequacy of transportation to connect the various cultural, manufacturing and business institutions in the Long Island City area.

Although John Young, the director of the Queens office of City Planning, said $250,000 has been earmarked for an 18-month study of transportation within Long Island City by U.S. Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), McCaffrey said the funding could easily fail to pass the U.S. Senate.

“I look at this with a certain degree of cynicism as to whether or not this results in action,” McCaffrey said of the study.

He pushed for a more immediate solution to the transportation needs in the area, which is already home to a 50-story Citibank office tower and will begin welcoming more than 1,000 MetLife employees in the fall.

“There’s sufficient justification now for us to put something in place that’s concrete and real,” McCaffrey said.

Representatives of the Department of City Planning who testified Tuesday expressed a willingness to resolve the concerns voiced by McCaffrey.

“The department is committed to working with your staff to work out these issues,” said City Planning Deputy Executive Director Lance Michaels.

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

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