Zone Defense

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Manufacturers are demanding an eye for an eye, a factory for an office building. In response to a proposal by the city to make the heart of Long Island City’s manufacturing area the city’s next high-rise business district, a coalition of 120 development corporations, unions and manufacturing advocates are asking the city to save some space for them, and give factories relocation funds if the real estate crunch forces them out.

In a plan due to reach the City Planning Commission for a vote this month, the city has called for rezoning the area to encourage about five million square feet of new office space. While the New York Industrial Retention Network, a manufacturers group, has no problem with new office development in the Queens area, the city should also send a signal to preserve manufacturing in adjoining areas, says Adam Friedman, the network’s executive director.

To protect the 15,000 factory jobs there, he says, the 90 blocks surrounding the proposed office core should be reserved strictly for manufacturers, small-scale neighborhood stores and office activities that support the factories. The city’s plan is expected to boost real estate prices, making expansions costly for factories now based in the proposed office zone triangle bounded by the Sunnyside rail yards, 23rd Street and 41st Avenue. By prohibiting offices from moving into the surrounding area, Friedman hopes manufacturers could continue to exist there comfortably.

This safety net would not help everyone, however. If manufacturers are forced to move elsewhere in the five boroughs, Friedman says the city should create a relocation fund financed with small-property assessments, much like a Business Improvement District. As property values rise there, Friedman argues, “It would be fair to recapture a little of that wealth…to remedy the negative impacts of the rezoning.”

The Department of City Planning says Friedman’s proposals are unnecessary. Zoning laws east of the new office area only permit low-rise buildings, making those streets unattractive for office developers, says John Young, director of planning for Queens.

Friedman could find some support in the City Council, however. Walter McCaffrey, who represents Long Island City and sits on the Land Use committee, agrees with the spirit of the proposal. “There is a basic prejudice against people working with their hands,” he says. While new fees for a relocation fund may be politically unrealistic, he suggests the city could find money in the general budget instead.

Whatever the strategy, Alan Prowler of the Dakota Jackson furniture factory on Orchard Street, hopes protections are put in place soon. His 160-person operation is already feeling the crunch. “Landlords are bumping up prices now in anticipation of what will happen.”