After having his plans rejected by city officials and getting slapped with multiple stop-work orders, a developer finally got the green light last week to start building a small shopping center in Forest Hills.
But some residents remain suspicious of the project, charging that the developer has been “secretive” about his exact plans for the site, at Metropolitan and 71st avenues.
The developer, David Koptiev of Gabriel Development Corp., wants to build a two-story complex with at least one retailer on the ground floor and offices on the top. This week, he said those plans “are still moving forward” now that the Department of Buildings has given them a belated nod.
But he refused to disclose a specific tenant for the new space, which formerly housed an auto repair shop. Originally, his company had proposed up to six name-brand stores, but Koptiev said this week that the likeliest tenant would be a bank.
That choice has perplexed some residents who noted that a Commerce Bank already exists across the street. “The whole manner in which they’re planning this strikes me as very peculiar,” said Community Board 6 member Barbara Stuchinski.
“First we heard six small stores at our civic meeting, now we’re hearing it’s a bank,” she continued. “Don’t get me wrong: we’re all for anything that enhances the neighborhood — but at this point, we have no idea what the devil is going on.”
According to city records, the Buildings Department rejected the developer’s applications to build on two of the site’s three lots earlier this year, but later signed off on a revised proposal.
An application for the third lot, submitted to the department last Monday, is still pending.
Buildings officials would not comment on the details of the proposals or why they had rejected (then approved) the first two. But they noted that their decisions are often based on whether a proposal complies with city building and zoning ordinances.
Even with the late-arriving approval, however, Koptiev’s plans have been further derailed by stop-work orders — first, for failing to shore the site’s perimeter; then, for violating the first order.
Koptiev convinced the city to rescind the ban last week, after strengthening a large wooden fence around the work site. But the repeated delays have left him leery of nearby neighbors, whom he suspects of “calling in the stop-work orders on me.”
If anything, Koptiev says they should be happy that he’s building anything there. “Would they prefer to leave it as a vacant lot? Or another auto shop?” he asked. “This is what I don’t understand: If lived in the neighborhood, and I do, I would love to see some form of high-end retail in that spot.
“Then again, maybe that’s just me. What do I know? Maybe I’m an idiot.”
Probably not an idiot, Stuchinski contends, but such suspicions may be the price the developer pays for not doing more to reach out to the community, she says.
“If this place complies (with city codes) and the tenant is acceptable, nobody’s going to object,” she said. “But when everybody’s in such a rush to put up new buildings and everything is so hush-hush, secret-secret, people are naturally going to get upset.”