The Long Island City Mystery

I wrote a fair amount last week about the overhaul of the city program that offers tax abatements for new residential construction. The details are here, and here, but to recap: A bill passed by the City Council last week will expand a so-called “exclusionary zone” within which developers, if they want the tax break, will have to also build some affordable housing. I know this is a little wonky, but one could argue that this law will have a lot more effect on the way New Yorkers live for the next few generations than, say, Joe Bruno’s horseback buddies or Alan Hevesi’s chauffeur service.

There’s an interesting wrinkle to this story that hasn’t been widely discussed, so far as I know, which is: What happened to Long Island City? The bill was supposed to expand the exclusionary zone to cover neighborhoods that are probable sites of future luxury housing development, such as Fort Green and Lower Manhattan. The best predictor of future luxury development, of course, is present luxury development. And by that measure, Long Island City is one of the fastest-growing areas of the city. In a recent report, the Pratt Center for Community Development profiled numerous luxury buildings outside the old exclusionary zone that were benefiting from the tax break; 12 of the buildings, a healthy percentage of the case studies, were located in Long Island City. All told, these buildings were receiving more than $75 million in subsidies.

Except for a sliver of undeveloped land along the East River waterfront, however, most of Long Island City was left untouched by the council’s expansion of the exclusionary zone. And Silvercup West, a $1.2 billion development sponsored by the movie studio of the same name, was specifically exempted. Why? I contacted the office of City Councilman Eric Gioia, who represents the area, but I haven’t heard back. Silvercup apparently had some complicated regulatory issues that led to its exemption. It seems possible that the city, which is building an affordable housing complex along the waterfront, on the site where NYC 2012 planned to build its Olympic Village, feels that 5,000 such units are enough for one neighborhood. And someone (ok, it’s Azi again) points out that Gioia raises a lot of money and has ambitions to run for citywide office. Keeping a swath of prime land open for unfettered development is the sort of thing real estate folks tend to remember when it’s check-writing time. Still, $75 million is a lot of money to leave on the table.

I’m stumped. Is there an explanation that I’m missing? Please fill me in.

UPDATE: Eric Gioia’s very friendly chief of staff, Jerel Klue, took time out of his holiday to call me back. He says that, although most of the buildings cited in the Pratt report would not fall under the new exclusionary zone, all of the Queens waterfront would. He took issue with my characterization of that area as a “sliver.” Though it may not be wide, Klue said, the area is zoned for high-density development–high-rise buildings and the like. “That is the area that’s really booming,” he added. “And that is the area where there is a real opportunity to create affordable housing.”

Andrew Rice