QUEENS PLAZA — The city is eyeing a 50-block swath of Long Island City for possible rezoning, an effort to spur development of more office space and affordable housing — but some locals worry the change would only speed up gentrification in the increasingly pricey neighborhood.
The Department of City Planning held a community meeting Tuesday about a portion of Queens Plaza and Dutch Kills, the first in a series of public discussions over the next several months before officials make specific zoning recommendations sometime this summer, they said.
The goal is to encourage the creation of more office space in the area — which has been dominated in recent years by new residential construction — and to implement the city's new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) amendment, which would require developers of new buildings in the area to construct affordable units on or off-site.
Queens Plaza was last rezoned in 2001 to encourage both commercial and residential construction, while Dutch Kills saw a rezoning in 2008 that lifted restrictions on residential development at the time.
"In part, that's why were here tonight — to look at the changes that have occurred since... and figure out if there are things we can do to improve the way development is going," City Planner Penny Lee said during a community meeting at CUNY Law School Tuesday night.
The area of Long Island City being considered for rezoning (Dept. of City Planning)
But several in the crowd were skeptical of a potential rezoning, echoing criticisms that the income range levels included in Mayor Bill de Blasio's MIH plan are not low enough to be truly affordable for many residents.
"This plan, to me, is more mega hyper-gentrification," said Jenny Dubnau, an artist with a studio in Dutch Kills who says her neighborhood has become increasingly unaffordable in recent years.
She worries that even if new zoning requires a portion of new units be affordable, it would ultimately create more expensive, market-rate apartments in the process.
"You have crumbs of possibly true affordability, but then you have 80 percent that are luxury," she said. "When you have the luxury buildings coming in, it drives up surrounding rents. It's not just the buildings that are being built that's affected — there's massive displacement happening."
Naved Husain, of the advocacy group Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, echoed these concerns.
"Once a rezoning is being talked about in a neighborhood, the speculation from landowners and developers increases," he said. "They get interested in buying up properties in those neighborhoods because they're awaiting a rezoning that would benefit their profit margins."
But Lee countered that Long Island City is already in the throes of a construction boom that's creating more housing without the requirement of affordability. Of the 13,000 apartments recently built or under construction in the study area, only about 5 percent are affordable, she said.
"If we do nothing, then there won't be affordable housing, and [we] also will not be getting the changes to really begin to right the balance between housing and office," she said.
City Planning will continue host meetings and community workshops over the next several months, and officials hope to be able to present specific rezoning suggestions by the end of June, according to Lee.
Rebecca Olinger, who's lived in the Court Square area for more than 20 years, said she's wary that any changes will slow the rapid development overtaking the neighborhood.
"I went from walking in sunlight to walking in shadows," she said. "We're being surrounded by high-rises."