Amazon Prime Real Estate

Governor Cuomo proposes rezoning in Long Island City as Amazon confirms HQ2 locations

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What happened to all of the giant promotional materials used in the 238 Amazon HQ2 bids? (Courtesy of IN Birmingham/via Twitter)
What happened to all of the giant promotional materials used in the 238 Amazon HQ2 bids? (Courtesy of IN Birmingham/via Twitter)

Now that Amazon has officially confirmed that it will split its second headquarters between Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, each city is gearing up to address the logistical concerns of dropping in 25,000 new tech employees.

To that end, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly planning to rezone the 20-acre Anable Basin site in Long Island City (LIC) using a General Project Plan (GPP) to accommodate the online retail giant. Though the area is currently zoned as a light manufacturing district, its owner, the plastic container company Plaxall, had previously tapped WXY for a master plan that would redevelop the industrial zone into a mixed-use redevelopment.

Using a GPP, the same process used to rezone Brooklyn’s Pacific Park (neé Atlantic Yards), the state would potentially be able to initiate a rezoning of Anable Basin without the approval of New York’s City Council. As a result, the basin and two adjacent city-owned sites that Amazon has been eyeing could potentially become a mixed-use campus and series of office buildings, zoned at a much higher density than New York’s zoning code would typically allow.

The Plaxall draft plan had previously angled to build 5,000 residential units, but as Crain’s noted, the GPP would allow for millions of square feet of office, residential, and mixed-use space. Although the GPP would still require an environmental review and is subject to community input during that phase, all of the recommendations received from the local community board and City Planning Commission would be non-binding.

The pushback from New Yorkers against Amazon’s decision was nearly immediate. The backlash was built on a number of factors, including concerns over affordable housing in Queens, transportation issues, fears that Amazon’s influence would price out the borough’s diverse residents, and anger over the amount of state and city money being handed to the company.

In Amazon’s official HQ2 press release this morning, the company disclosed that New York State would be giving away $1.525 billion in tax credits. Most of that, $1.2 billion, would be returned through New York State’s Excelsior Program over 10 years, subsidizing each employee to the tune of $48,000. The remaining $325 million will be given to Amazon in the form of a direct grant from Empire State Development, based on the amount of square footage it’s expected to occupy.

In return, Amazon has pledged to invest $2.5 billion in each portion of its dual headquarters. A portion of the property taxes from the new Amazon campus will go toward funding transportation improvements in Long Island City, and the tech company has also promised to carve out space for a tech incubator and public primary school.

Still, those concessions haven’t mollified critics. As soon as Amazon’s decision to settle in Queens was leaked last week, New York’s incoming, newly-democrat controlled state senate and assembly pledged to stop the flow of taxpayer money to Amazon.

Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim told Capital & Main that he would look into rerouting the state’s economic development money (mainly corporate subsidies) into student debt relief, and called the correlation between tax breaks and corporate incentives unhealthy. On Twitter, western Queens representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let loose with a thread blasting Albany for giving away over a billion dollars in tax breaks when Amazon hasn’t initiated hiring quotas, protection for workers, or any promise to avoid displacing long-time LIC residents.

State Senator Michael Gianaris and Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer also released a joint statement outlining their problems with what they described as a “massive corporate welfare” giveaway. In the release, both offices went on record as calling the Amazon deal a giveaway from the 99 percent to prop up the 1 percent.

It remains to be seen how effective these protests will be, or whether state-level legislators will be able to wring any concessions out of either Amazon or the Cuomo administration.

In related news, Amazon also announced their intention to bring an “East Coast hub” to Nashville that would employ up to 5,000. The company will be building out one million square feet of energy-efficient efficient office space while investing $230 million in the city and expects to pay $1 billion in taxes over the next ten years. In return, Nashville has promised up to $102 million in tax incentives depending on whether Amazon hits its hiring targets. Amazon will begin hiring for all three of the newly revealed locations sometime in 2019, though it may take up to 15 years for the LIC and Crystal City locations to fully integrate their 25,000 employees.

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