Council committee gives approval to LIC rezoning

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After the City Council’s Land Use Committee voted to approve a modified proposal to rezone Long Island City last Thursday, Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) vowed to protect local manufacturers from being pushed by office tenants.

The vote came only a day after Metropolitan Life Insurance Company disclosed it plans to add 700 more employees to a Queens Plaza office space where 1,000 workers were already slated to move in the coming year.

The City Planning Commission’s 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 pushed out of Manhattan by high rents and tight spaces.

The Land Use Committee approved the rezoning in a unanimous vote, proposing only two modifications to a plan that has already been reviewed by community boards and undergone one set of revisions by the Department of City Planning.

The primary modification alters the minimum height of street walls on narrow streets from 23 feet to between 60 and 100 feet. The lower street wall had been criticized on the grounds that it would encourage landowners to demolish loft structures and construct new buildings with slender office towers rising from low, wide bases.

In a series of hearings held over the past two weeks by the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, McCaffrey has expressed strong reservations about the rezoning proposal because it provided no assurances that manufacturers — which have historically thrived in Long Island City — would not be pushed out by office tenants capable of paying higher rents.

Although no revisions were made to address manufacturers before the committee’s vote, McCaffrey said a plan would be devised in the coming weeks to address his concerns, which are shared by many city officials and Long Island City businesses.

“It is my belief that we will devise a mechanism that will provide a kind of relief to the manufacturing base in Long Island City,” said McCaffrey, who chairs the subcommittee. “It becomes essential to us that we end up addressing this issue in the coming weeks ahead.”

McCaffrey intimated that some form of subsidy may be provided to support Long Island City manufacturers, possibly something akin to the $8 million offered to printing companies when the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan was rezoned.

McCaffrey said his mission was complicated by the fact that the City Council and mayor have already adopted a budget, which limits his ability to allocate funds for the manufacturers.

The zoning proposal has been sent back to the City Planning Commission, which has 15 days to assess the changes and determine whether any further environmental or land-use review is necessary.

Christopher Collins, counsel to the Land Use Committee, said staff members of the Department of City Planning had already indicated to him that the modifications are satisfactory, which means the measure should return to the Council for a full vote on July 26.

While testifying before the City Council about the rezoning, MetLife officials revealed they hope to move 700 more employees than originally planned to a new office in Long Island City.

The insurance company will move into what was formerly known as the Brewster building, a loft structure owned by Brause Realty which has historically been used to manufacture both planes and the Rolls Royce, among others.

MetLife officials announced earlier this year that they had signed a lease with Brause and planned to move 1,000 employees into the building, following the company’s decision to rent out most of its Manhattan headquarters to Credit Suisse-First Boston.

MetLife spokesman John Calagna said this week that transferring as many as 1,700 employees hinged upon the City Council’s approval of the rezoning measure as well as successful negotiations with Brause. An addition would have to be constructed on the Brause property in order to house the additional employees, Calagna said.

MetLife is the first major corporation to announce a move to Long Island City since the arrival of the 50-story Citibank office tower in 1989.

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

Posted 7:09 pm, October 10, 2011
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