The City Planning Commission approved plans for the Flushing Commons development yesterday, sending the project forward through the land use approval process. Officials’ portrayals of this development, which will put 1,600 parking spaces in the middle of a transit-rich downtown, put the city’s tortured relationship with transit-oriented development into perfect perspective.
First, let’s see what City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden had to say. Burden understands that Flushing is rapidly turning into a downtown all its own, calling the area "one of the city’s most dynamic regional centers," and that it deserves development suited for a downtown, not a suburb.
More important, Burden highlighted the critical importance of building a walkable, dense project in a neighborhood with the busiest subway station outside Manhattan, 21 different bus routes and a Long Island Railroad station, and the third-busiest pedestrian intersection in all of New York. Explaining her support for the project, Burden said Flushing Commons "exemplifies sustainable, transit-oriented development that capitalizes on Flushing’s exceptional subway, bus and commuter rail access."
All of that is true, and Burden’s stated support for transit-oriented rezoning has generally translated to real-world results: Under Burden, the Department of City Planning’s many rezonings have, on average, pushed growth towards transit.
But Flushing Commons will also include around 1,600 parking spaces, all priced below market rates. That means residents, shoppers, and workers at the mixed-use project will be driving into downtown Flushing, not taking transit. That doesn’t exemplify sustainability; it enshrines a car-centric lifestyle in steel and cement.
Keep in mind that the total amount of parking is far greater than the developer wants to build or than the Department of City Planning itself requires. It was mandated by EDC and essentially pulled out of a hat.
So what does the city, ostensibly dedicated to reducing automobile use, have to say about stuffing so many more cars into horribly congested downtown Flushing? According to the developer, Michael Meyer, parking never came up at the planning commission meeting.
Mayor Bloomberg, however, raised the issue in a press release praising the commission’s vote. The commission’s action, he said, "moves us one step closer to reinvigorating downtown Flushing with new housing and retail options, hotel or office space, and much-needed additional parking for the area’s residents and visitors." For the mayor, it seems, making it easier to drive into a booming, dense, transit-rich downtown isn’t a violation of the principles of PlaNYC, but a neighborhood perk.
This project, which replaces a vitality-sapping 1,100-spot surface parking lot, is very close to being, as Burden argues, a transit-oriented home run, putting hundreds of thousands of square feet of new development in one of Queens’ most walkable and transit-accessible sites. But instead, it’s going to give more space to storing private vehicles than to retail and office space combined.
Unfortunately, things aren’t likely to get any better when the project goes to City Council. Both local council members, Peter Koo and Dan Halloran, support adding even more parking to Flushing Commons.