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CB2 Votes Against Plan to Replace 5Pointz with Luxury High-Rises

 CB2 rejected the developer's application, but warned it could not stop 5Pointz from being torn down.
CB2 Rejects Plan to Redevelop 5Pointz
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LONG ISLAND CITY — Queens Community Board 2 voted unanimously Thursday night against a developer's plan to replace 5Pointz with two high-rise luxury apartment towers, eliciting cheers from a crowd of artists and art fans who'd packed the board meeting in an effort to save the ailing graffiti Mecca.

But CB2 members warned that their vote — which is solely advisory — applies only to the developer's application to build a larger structure than allowed by current zoning, and does not protect 5Pointz from the wrecking ball.

"There is nothing the community board can do about that — as a matter of right, they can tear down that building and build something," CB2 land use co-chairman Stephen Cooper told the crowd.

"If you want to stop that, you have to go and get either landmarked or have it historically designated or have the art commission designate it," he said. "You're going to have to go way beyond this room to do that, and I encourage you, if that's what you want, to go ahead.”

The board's vote came at the end of a heated public comment session where a steady stream of people accused the developer, David Wolkoff, of trying to tear down a cultural icon for the sake of profit. One speaker broke down in tears. Another performed a 5Pointz-themed rap song. One man came to the microphone and tore a poster of the Mona Lisa in half.

Jason Artiga, of the arts collective Local Project — housed in the same set of graffiti-covered warehouses, at Davis Street and Jackson Avenue — said the proposed re-development would change the fabric of the art-centric neighborhood. 

"If this building gets built, all you're going to see is upper-class people," he said. "To knock down 5Pointz is to knock down a great museum. And I offer Mr. Wolkoff a challenge...to take off your suit and to come down and meet with us. Not to argue, but to see our value to the community."

Wolkoff, whose family has owned the building for decades, said they've allowed artists to use the space for years, free of charge.

"We were the ones who allowed the artists to do their work on our buildings for the last 20 years," he said, adding that he plans to continue collaborating with local artists by including art studios and walls to display street art in the development plan.

"It's a way to do what we want to do, create our own art, and allow them to be symbiotic with us," he said.

Wolkoff's plan calls for two buildings — one 47-stories high, the other 41 stories — containing about 1,000 rental apartments, with 50,000 square feet of retail on the first floors and 30,000 square feet of outdoor public landscaped space around them.

In its vote against the developer's application, CB2 cited the scope of the project as too large and dense for the area, as well as concerns over parking and the fact that the Wolkoffs would not commit to including affordable apartments in the plan.

"It is the opinion of CB2 that should such an outsized development be considered, that development must in return...provide the community with some benefits," Stephen Cooper read in a motion on behalf of the board.

He said those benefits could include better public outdoor space, improvements to local transit, more adequate parking, apartments set aside as affordable housing and a partnership with local art groups.

The board's rejection of Wolkoff's application, the first step in the city's uniform land use review procedure, is only advisory. Even if the Wolkoffs are ultimately denied their application to build the larger project, they can still knock 5Pointz down and build on the site under current zoning rules.

Wolkoff said he was "disappointed" by the board's vote, but that he would "seriously" consider its recommendations — which called for the plan to include better public outdoor space, improvements to local transit, more adequate parking, apartments set aside for affordable housing and guaranteed support for local art groups.

"We're a part of the fabric of this community and in that sense, we're going to listen to what the community has to say," he said.