HUNTERS POINT — Critics of the city's plan to build a school, offices and 1,000 apartments on the Long Island City waterfront called it "irresponsible" to develop the site because it's located in a hurricane evacuation zone that's prone to flooding during storms.
Advocates said they would rather see the two city-owned parcels — located next to the East River at the end of 44th Drive — converted to public parkland, with plantings, oyster beds and other green infrastructure to help make the area more resistant to floods.
"We think continuing to build in a flood plain is irresponsible," said Diane Hendry, a member of the LIC Coalition, an advocacy group that launched a petition last week opposing the city's plans. "The land is a natural wetlands. It should be preserved. We do not want this land used for 1,000 luxury units."
The petition had received 248 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, with the goal of reaching 500.
The city's Economic Development Corporation and developer TF Cornerstone are planning the mixed-use project, which will include a 600-seat school, offices and light manufacturing space, as well as at least 1,000 apartments, a quarter of which will be set aside for affordable housing.
The development will rise on two sites across the street from one another: 5-40 44th Drive, currently a Department of Transportation facility, and 4-99 44th Drive, which includes a Department of Education parking lot and the shuttered Water's Edge restaurant.
The site is located within Hurricane Evacuation Zone 1, what the city has designated as the most likely to flood during a storm. The parcels also sit on the border between two FEMA flood zones with the highest risk of flooding, according to a map from the agency.
Thomas Paino, a Long Island City resident and architect who designed his own storm-resistant home not far from where the development is planned, says the proposed site is located at "the low point of an already low coastline."
Paino — who has been pushing to get the 44th Drive site converted into a park and nature habitat for more than a decade — said the threat of floods will only increase in the coming decades as sea levels are expected to rise.
"I think they're opening the door to huge liabilities," he said.
The city's EDC said that while it is still early in the design phase, the project will comply "with all applicable resiliency standards," a spokeswoman said.
The development is slated to include more than an acre of open green space, including a canoe and kayak launch, which the EDC will design based on feedback from the community, the agency said.
"The project is in preliminary stages of development and is required to go through the public approvals process, in which community residents and stakeholders will be able to share their input," an EDC spokeswoman said.
Brent O'Leary, who heads the Hunters Point Civic Association, said he supports the push to turn the site into a public park, noting the 1 acre of open space included in the city's plan is not enough.
"This is city-owned property, and we think that this property should be used for the benefit of the neighborhood," he said. "A park is much more needed."
In addition to environmental concerns, he said his group is also concerned with what the addition of 1,000 new apartments would mean for Long Island City, which has already seen an explosion of residential development in the last decade.
"The strain on the infrastructure, which is very heavy right now, is going to get worse — the subway lines, the schools needed, the sewer system," he said. "We see development and we don’t see the infrastructure coming into it."