Among the city’s waterways, Anable Basin is not particularly grand or historic. It is a 500-foot artificial inlet cut into an industrial section along the East River, in Long Island City, Queens.
But as much of New York’s once-industrial waterfront has been transformed into pricey residential housing, the family that owns most of the land along the basin sees it as rich in possibilities for development, and it is proposing to replace its ho-hum warehouses with a $3-billion project, including an apartment tower that would rise about 700 feet, or 70 stories, making it taller than any existing building not only in Queens, but in all of the boroughs outside Manhattan.
“I think people will come out and say that’s too much,” said Diane Hendry, a spokeswoman for the LIC Coalition, a nonprofit that formed last year to fight overdevelopment in the neighborhood. Ms. Hendry, 58, a 29-year resident of the area and an artist, calls the family members from Plaxall Realty, the company behind the plan, “fabulous.”
“But that doesn’t mean they should have the biggest, grandest development,” she added.
The plan would require a massive rezoning of the area to allow for apartments and taller buildings. On Tuesday, it is poised to take its first step closer to reality when the Department of City Planning is expected to release the first public details of the project, while also announcing the first hearing for public comment, in December.
Plaxall was founded in 1938 by an engineer named Louis Pfohl after he relocated from the Midwest in order to design elevator cabs.
Three of Mr. Pfohl’s grandchildren — the cousins Paula Kirby, 51, a former fashion executive; Matthew Quigley, 52, a lawyer; and Tony Pfohl, 41, a lawyer who spends some of his time in Dubuque, Iowa, managing properties in the city where Mr. Pfohl grew up — acknowledge that the project’s tallest tower, which would surpass the Citigroup Building, Queens’ most recognizable skyscraper, will be controversial.Continue reading the main story
But they say the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which requires developers to create a certain percentage of affordable housing, mandates that a quarter of the 5,000 proposed condominiums and rental units be offered at below-market prices. If they can’t fetch top dollar for a large batch of apartments, they say, they have to make up the money with luxury apartments on upper floors with sweeping city views.
The tower and other planned buildings would be “a unique opportunity to really make a skyline for Long Island City,” Ms. Kirby said.
The development would also include 3.1 acres of public space, banked to protect against flooding, as well as barges with cafes and kayak docks.
The rezoning process for the mixed-use project, which would also add commercial spaces for light manufacturing, shops and day care providers, plus a public school on a different site, could eat up most of 2018, said Jonathan Drescher, a former executive with the Durst Organization, whom Plaxall hired to manage the process.
At the site, near Vernon Boulevard, Plaxall currently controls 13 acres, or about five city blocks, where all the buildings would be razed. The other two acres are owned by a handful of landlords, who are expected to either redevelop their land or sell their property once the rezoning is complete.
Plaxall has proposed 4,995 apartments, as well as 335,000 square feet of manufacturing space, which could be leased to tenants like furniture fabricators, breweries or bakeries.
Tenants, including people who work at those businesses, would live upstairs, according to the plan.
The project is similar to the two-towered complex planned around the corner on city-owned land on 44th Drive that will have 1,000 apartments and 100,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, from a team led by the firm TF Cornerstone; one of its towers would clock in at 650 feet.
But eliminating industrial activities, in a city where manufacturing zones are shrinking quickly, has not always gone over well.
Before construction begins on the first phase of the Anable Basin project, which would likely have 500 apartments, Plaxall is hoping to sell a stake to a developer, though company officials said it is too soon to name potential partners. Plaxall would also consider selling its entire five-block site.
But, said Mr. Pfohl, whose firm owns other buildings nearby, “it is certainly not in our best interests to cash out with the first offer we get.”
If the family were to cash out, it would mark the end of a long chapter. A few years after arriving in New York, Louis Pfohl, who had engineering, architecture and legal degrees, left the elevator business to form his own plastic-container company, Plaxall, which made form-fitted packaging for perfume and liquor bottles, pens and the like.
Plaxall’s first factory, in Flushing, was bulldozed to make way for the James A. Bland Houses, a public housing development. In 1950, Mr. Pfohl relocated to Long Island City, purchasing a pair of buildings that faced each other on 46th Avenue from the Standard Oil Company, which unloaded fuel from barges in the basin.
Pepsi-Cola was an early major tenant. The curvy red Pepsi sign on the East River nearby recalls the soda company’s huge footprint in the neighborhood.
Mr. Pfohl, who died in 1986 after a heart attack at his factory, seems to have won many fans in his lifetime, some of whom marveled at his parsimony. Meir Newman, who owns buildings nearby, said Mr. Pfohl would buy only day-old fruit from a deli on Vernon to save a couple of pennies. Mr. Newman would often run into him at the store.
The generation after Ms. Kirby, Mr. Quigley and Mr. Pfohl has 41 members, Ms. Kirby said.
The cousins squabble, as might be expected. When they were children in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, and would commute in the family station wagon to private school in Manhattan. Ms. Kirby would loudly practice French to impress the driver, annoying the rest of the car, Mr. Quigley said.
“Whether it was bad French, or good French, it didn’t matter,” he said, during a tour of the family’s properties.
A few minutes later, Ms. Kirby launched into a long description of an art show that was once held in one of the warehouses. As she went on, Mr. Pfohl rolled his eyes. “She’s still talking annoying French,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ms. Kirby said her grandfather would be amazed at the evolution of the Queens waterfront. “He said, ‘Kids, someday Manhattan will become overcrowded, and people are going to come one subway stop from Grand Central, to Long Island City,’ ” she said, while gazing at the glittering waves. “He would be so excited to see what is happening today.”Continue reading the main story