Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE)hosted a community forum on Friday, February 4, to discuss plans for another mixed-use development on the Flushing waterfront along College Point Boulevard at a brownfield site. The meeting was the first of a string of town halls and information sessions set up between now and June to involve the community and gather input from them as to what the space should be best used for.
"In cases like these, the community is usually overlooked; the opinions of the community don't really reach to the decision makers,” said Richard Lee, public policy and legislative advocate at AAFE. “We know that College Point and waterfront area has been selected for a Brownfield opportunity area study and they will figure out what to put on the site, but we want to preempt what might be planned over there and make sure the community gets involved."
AAFE wants the developer, the Local Development Corporation (LDC) and the city to know what is most important to residents and include it in the final plans.
"We want it to be a community-driven development process," Lee said.
The study will be conducted from Roosevelt Avenue to Northern Boulevard along College Point Boulevard and the Flushing River by the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation, which received a $1.5 million grant by the state in 2009 to improve the underutilized area. After the study is conducted and assessed, a developer will be called in to begin construction.
AAFE is working to involve various members of the community by reaching out, for example, to the Parent Teacher Association of Flushing High School.
"We have very little opportunity to reach out to parents, so we're asking the principal to dedicate one PTA meeting for AAFE to go in with information and collect a detailed survey of their needs," Lee said.
After conducting surveys and meetings, AAFE plans to record all the data and at the end of June, release it to show what type of development the community needs most.
Since there was very little outreach on the Flushing Commons development on Municipal Lot 1 that forced small businesses on the defensive, Lee said that they are ahead of the game at this early stage. AAFE's aim is to get in with a needs assessment so that the developer can include the community’s needs.
Local businesses, like those within the Union Street Small Business Association, are also taking action early.
Ikhwan Rim, owner of Rim's Fine Jewelry on Union Street, protested Flushing Commons after the lack of community input.
"Later we found out it would be built without any solution to protect the small businesses so I want to make sure they don't take the same steps," he said. "They have to open the door to small businesses."
AAFE is also looking to reach out to senior centers, community organizations, faith-based groups and tenant groups - all of whom AAFE feels have a say in what is planned for the site and all of whom might not be otherwise reached in the planning stages.
"We thought it was important to let the rest of the community know," said Chris Kui, executive director of AAFE. "It's not just about the Brownfield study area but throughout his process my hope is that we could articulate a vision and need for the entire neighborhood, not just responding to one particular development."