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Queens Chronicle

Community rallies against Target

Queens Neighborhoods United fights gentrification, big business

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2019 10:30 am

Elmhurst community members protested the construction of a Target at 40-31 82 St. during a rally at Dunningham Triangle on Sunday afternoon.

Over the summer, the Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order for the mixed-use development plan after the agency accepted a zoning challenge submitted by area activists and residents. The plan to build at the site did not fully conform to zoning regulations under Use Group 6, which only allows for small-scale commercial establishments like drug stores, hardware stores and bodegas.

The order was lifted after the developers, Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group, revised their design.

Queens Neighborhoods United and its legal counsel, the Community Development Project, previously filed an appeal with the Board of Standards and Appeals to challenge the decision but because of a backlog, the case will not be heard for months.

According to Shrima Pandey of QNU, the developers received special approval to continue construction on Saturdays.

“They know that the faster they build, the more likely their project will pass but we know that too, and we won’t allow it to happen. We must stop them from building,” Pandey said.

According to a DOB spokesman, the contractors at the site previously requested after hours variances at the location to work on Saturdays and the most recent AHV was issued to the site for work on Jan 5. There have been no AHV requests for any future dates.

“We defeated the rezoning at 82nd Street when they said we couldn’t and now we’re coming for Target,” Pandey said.

The developers had sought to build 13 stories but are only allowed 10 as of right.

QNU, state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst) and community members will take their case to the New York Supreme Court on Thursday as they demand construction is stopped until the original case is heard by the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Paula Segal, senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project, which is serving as counsel to QNU, was one of the speakers at the rally.

“This is very simple,” she said. “Heskel and Sun Equity knew when they bought this property that it was zoned for only local retail.”

She continued, “They thought they could rezone the property. They even told the mayor, ‘Oh, if you support our rezoning, we’ll give you a couple of affordable housing units.’ And the mayor said, ‘I love it. Great.’ And the folks in this neighborhood organized and said, ‘No way. We don’t want your stupid affordable housing and we don’t want to change the zoning.’”

Segal said the DOB might be convinced that zoning applies only above ground, allowing Target to be constructed underneath.

“If that’s the case and if they succeed in convincing the Department of Buildings that this is the way zoning works in New York City, then no residential neighborhood is safe from becoming an underground destination mall,” she said.

In a phone interview with the Chronicle, Segal said, “The DOB issued an improper permit and that’s why we’re in court. The DOB issued a permit based on the premise that the use restriction that limits variety stores to 10,000 square feet does not apply underground. Nobody disputes that the store for which this building is being built will be over 23,000 square feet.”

She added, “I don’t know why they issued that permit. They shouldn’t have done that.”

The DOB spokesman, however, said, “all parts of a building are required to comply with the NYC Zoning Resolution, unless the property receives a variance.”

The permitted plans for the new building projects calls for five separate commercial stores, each under 10,000 square feet. The plans also call for 23,392 square feet of commercial space in the basement.

“While DOB is responsible for ensuring that buildings are legally occupied as per the approved plans and Certificate of Occupancy, we do not select which corporate entity is allowed to occupy space in a building,” the spokesman said.

“DOB approves building construction plans and ensures that they comply with the code and zoning. Once a building is constructed, DOB continues to enforce zoning rules and ensure that buildings are occupied as per their legal Certificate of Occupancy. People don’t tell us who is going to run the cash registers when they submit construction plans.”

All the speakers at the rally declared “We find the developers guilty of gentrification.” The “People’s Court” had member Tania Mattos in a judge’s wig with a gavel.

“Gentrification is about economics, rent, prices, taxes,” said Eleanor Batchelder, from the Queens Center for Gay Seniors. “But it is also and more deeply about community. We who live in this neighborhood are not just statistics. We are real people.

“People who grew up here, people who have come recently. People who go to churches and temples and mosques here. Children who go to school here. People who speak English and Spanish and Bengali and Chinese. People who work right here and people who commute to jobs in other parts of the city and even further. But to Target we are nothing but potential customers. Target is not interested in our lives.”

Tom Angotti, an urban planner and author of “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,” spoke about the importance of rallying.

“You are the alternative to the Department of City Planning, to the Mayor’s Office and to every part of city government that takes part in this massive theft known as the real estate industry,” he said.

Angotti referenced how there were banners in Manhattan declaring the city to be the real estate capital of the world.

“And it’s on steroids, destroying neighborhoods, gentrifying and displacing people who have come here from all over the world to make a living, work hard,” he said. “And when you have giant businesses like Target and Amazon, they jack up land values and rents in the surrounding areas and you can’t have small businesses.”

Ernie Brooks, from LIC Coalition, said he noticed “how alive” the Elmhurst area is with its restaurants and small businesses. “This is exactly what Target will destroy,” he said.

Brooks added that the city used to be stricter on bigger businesses including Walmart and Target.

“Now they seem to be inviting them in,” he said, though Walmart has been rebuffed. “And it speaks to the power of the industry of real estate which pretty much controls planning and the lack of planning that exists in New York.”

Alexis Kaloyanides, from the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, said a quarter-century ago the group helped establish the Jackson Heights Historic District and had the Jackson Theatre, built in the 1920s and located at 40-31 82 St., been landmarked, things could be very different with the present situation.

“One of the main reasons for establishing a landmarked historic district is because landmarking is one of the only ways to prevent demolition,” she said. “Had the historic theater behind us at 40-31 82 St. been landmarked, we likely would not be in the situation that we’re currently in today with this property.”

She said more progress had been made in the last six months than ever before when it comes to trying to expand the historic district.

“We have been advocating for years to expand the historic district so that development that does come into our community is thoughtful and within the context and scale of existing surroundings,” Kaloyanides said.

According to Kaloyanides, the small businesses have a positive impact on more than just commerce in the area.

“Our small business owners are invested in our communities because they live in our communities,” she said. “In many ways they are also our eyes on the street and contribute to the overall safety and stability of our communities.”

In May, Borough President Melinda Katz recommended the approval of Sun Equity Partners’ rezoning application to build the mixed-use development at the location near the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst border.

Following the submission of zoning documents in late June, the DOB received a development challenge from a community group. The agency agreed with the group after officials determined that issues raised in the public community challenge were valid, specifically regarding whether the proposed use of the building by a single large store would be allowed under Use Group 6.

In late August, the DOB issued a full stop-work order as well as a notice of intent to revoke the permit. The developers were told they would need to revise their plans and returned with new plans that called for the same-sized building but with five separate stores. They did and the DOB removed the stop-work order in September.

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1 comment:

  • Sunnyside posted at 1:29 pm on Fri, Jan 11, 2019.

    Sunnyside Posts: 2

    Come on NIMBY's, why are you fighting this. If you don't want a Target then don't shop there and it will go out of business. But that won't happen because people WILL shop there because they WANT a Target.

    Why are you trying to force people to shop in specific places? This is America