LIC zoning changes may spur new business center

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The City Council has unanimously approved a rezoning proposal for Long Island City, opening up the neighborhood for mixed-use development that is expected to transform it into the next major business district for the city.

City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, described the approved rezoning as a “fulfilled promise of Long Island City’s new importance in the city of New York.”

Members of the Council approved the zoning changes last Thursday by a vote of 30-0, ending an extensive review process that led to many revisions to the plan. The new zoning regulations take effect immediately, city council spokesman Jake Lynn said.

The zoning changes, which had been in the pipeline since 1993, make a 37-block area in Long Island City available 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 companies pushed out of Manhattan by high rents and tight spaces.

“We’ll see a Long Island City that will have a unique mixture of manufacturing interests, a new central business district and new center of cultural life within the city,” McCaffrey said.

The neighborhood, dubbed the Special Long Island City Mixed Use District, covers 37 blocks east of the Queensboro Bridge, bounded by 23rd Street on the west, 41st Avenue on the north and Sunnyside Yards to the east.

Although widely praised as a way to revitalize Long Island City, the rezoning also has drawn sharp criticism from those who fear that the neighborhood’s manufacturers will be pushed out as new forms of development raise the value of their sites.

McCaffrey said the council plans to set aside money to help out such manufacturers.

He also said the size of the rezoned area was significantly reduced early in the planning stages, so that most of the neighborhood’s 17,000 manufacturing jobs would be located outside of the new district, where the companies would be less affected by the changes in the neighborhood.

While some developers have expressed an interest in Long Island City, McCaffrey said “everything is really determined by the overall national economy and interest rates, so the factors are out of our control.”

The rezoned area is already home to the 50-story Citibank building, which was built in the late 1980s following the rezoning of three blocks now included in the 37-block mixed-use district.

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company announced plans to move more than 1,000 employees to the Brause Building in Queens Plaza, a loft formerly used as a manufacturing site for airplanes and the Rolls Royce. They are expected to begin using the space this fall, making MetLife the first major corporation to move into the area following the zoning changes.

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

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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