Statement on South Avenue Retail Development Project
New York City Council Committee on Land Use, October 31, 2017
We have before us today an application for a zoning special permit to allow retail establishments larger than 10,000 square feet, and a mapping action that will remove unbuilt map streets to prevent development in adjacent wetlands on a property located at the corner of Forest and South Avenues in the neighborhood of Mariners Harbor.
There has been a lot of misinformation swirling about this development, so let me set the record straight:
All tidal wetlands will be protected, and strengthened, with the removal of harmful invasive species and the planting of 2,200 native trees and 9,600 shrubs, while preserving more than 1,100 existing large trees.
I have spent hours in meetings with the applicants, with land use experts and with local residents to arrive at a project that delivers smart planning, environmental preservation, sustainability, resiliency and economic development.
On several occasions, I hosted meetings in my office that allowed residents to speak directly with the developers and environmental and traffic specialists to resolve their legitimate concerns. I have been sensitive to the feedback from all voices—positive and negative—and I have taken their feedback to the negotiating table and worked, up to the last minute, to secure the best outcome for my constituents.
Let me be clear: The applicants can put shovels in the ground tomorrow for a project of the same footprint, with no approval from the City Council needed. But by undertaking this land use process, we now have a development that respects the needs of this environmental justice community increases our resiliency, decreases our carbon footprint, and brings jobs to local residents and groceries to a food desert.
While the applicant is required by state and federal regulations to manage all stormwater on the site at the same rate as the land currently does, my negotiations have secured a commitment to construct several additional bioswales.
A bioswale filters stormwater and diverts it from city stormdrains. In this case, they hold and filter stormwater, and release at a rate and pattern identical to current conditions. This project has a series of 8-foot-wide bioswales throughout the parking lot, as well as two 16-foot-wide bioswales in the parking lot. The applicant has also committed to a large aerated retention pond area, new trees, and drywells in the parking lot.
As a result of our negotiations, the applicant will install additional bioswales along all of the proposed street tree pits at the perimeter of the project site, and include permeable pavers on the sidewalks lining the enlarged bioswales proposed on the site. Finally, in our negotiations last week, the developer agreed to add a sizable 14,119 square foot bioswale at the northwestern portion of the site.
These improvements made during negotiations increase the permeable space on the site by 16,000 square feet over the original proposal. These features will manage rainfall from storms that well exceed the rainfall of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy combined.
The applicant has also committed to a landscaped screening along the length of South Avenue to preserve existing aesthetics. Through my negotiations, I also secured a public viewing area of the wetlands along the southwest portion of the development site that will include public benches and signage to provide information about existing natural features.
The applicant has committed to installing solar panels on the roof of the development, as well as skylights, cool roof enhancements, and LED motion-detected lighting to minimize the carbon footprint of this development.
The applicant is required to file documentation with the state to ensure that the development is meeting all requirements to manage stormwater on this site at the rate that existed before development, and that the new plantings are functioning as described in the stormwater mitigation plan. These documents will also be filed with my office.
Additionally, we are including a traffic monitoring program that will be developed in close coordination with my office. We will begin this study sooner than originally proposed to ensure minimal disruption to neighboring residents. A second traffic monitoring program will include other intersections of concern that may be impacted by new construction proposed in the area in the next two years. All large truck traffic will use Forest Avenue, a commercial corridor, rather than the more residential South Avenue. The applicant will meet with my office quarterly to review the traffic mitigation program and address any traffic concerns produced by this project.
The largest expected tenant on the site, BJ’s Wholesale Club, will host a job fair with my office to provide in-person opportunities to meet hiring representatives, providing early notification to Community Board 1 and my office for other job hiring opportunities, and reporting to my office on the results of their local hiring efforts. The applicant has also committed to soliciting bids for construction contracts and subcontracts from local and M/WBE businesses. The applicant will encourage future tenants on the site to conduct the same outreach efforts as BJs.
I want to be clear to anyone encouraging a no vote on this project. A no vote would bring us a development with the same footprint, but without any of these commitments I just listed. A no vote would mean no increased permeability and bioswales, no solar panels and skylights, without benches and signage, no measures to preserve esthetics, no local and MWBE hiring commitments, and no traffic evaluation or mitigation.
Contrary to what some have said, this land use agreement is a win for protecting the environment. I am voting yes on this application because, after months of negotiations, we have a project that represents smart, forward-thinking environmentally conscious planning and responds to the real concerns and needs that I hear overwhelmingly from the community, and I urge my colleagues to vote yes with me.