Coalition counters Flushing Commons

On the congested corner of Union Street and 39th Avenue, just outside Municipal Parking Lot 1, the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development held a preliminary demonstration last Thursday for its future City Hall rally against the Flushing Commons development project.

The coalition — established by former Flushing BID Chairman Jim Gerson about a month ago — aims to preserve the jobs and investments of local merchants and residents and prevent gridlock in downtown Flushing as developers build Flushing Commons, a 5.5-acre complex of more than 600 condominiums, retail space, a YMCA, a public green and 1,600 underground parking spaces.

With Wednesday’s vote by the City Planning Commission to approve the project and only the City Council’s review left, Gerson’s time is running out.

His coalition has, in its infancy, secured broad support from the Chinese, Korean and cross-cultural business communities, according to its founder. In his opinion, “it’s the only committee” on the development of Flushing Commons “that uses logic.”

That logic surmises that the Rockefeller Group and TDC Development and Construction Corp. joint venture “will be the death knell for the 900 small businesses in the community because… it will eliminate all of the parking that you see behind you.” So said coalition lobbyist Robert Lipsky, accounting for the proposed 1,600 spaces that both “big box retail” employees and condo residents would monopolize once the complex was built.

His words were vehemently disparaged as lies by general counsel for F&T Group, the umbrella organization to which TDC Development belongs, Earle Tockman. Coalition member and press conference coordinator Sunny Hahn promptly shushed Tockman for disturbing the proceedings.

The “ignored voice of 900 business merchants around the parking lot,” with which Flushing Union Street Association Co-President Daniel Kung sympathized, would have its full say.

The Coalition to Reconsider and Evaluate Development Opportunities at Municipal Parking Lot 1, which represents 10,000 residents in the immediate area and has drafted a position paper against TDC’s project specifications has also been ignored. REDO spokesman and urban planner Paul Graziano said developers should decrease Flushing Commons’ proposed density and increase its parking spaces to make the complex “more palatable” to its neighbors.

“If you take the amount of parking required for residents and commercial properties, there’s not enough,” Gerson said, in support of Graziano’s rationalization, especially considering that some of the spaces are intended for valet parking at market, not municipal rates.

“The lot speaks for itself,” agreed business proprietor Henry Berkman. “It’s three in the afternoon. In the three-hour [limit part of the] parking lot, try to find a parking space.”

Lipsky said that if parking goes, so do merchants like Berkman.

Gerson was in favor of increasing the city’s proposed merchant assistance, up from $2 million, during the three years of construction; he was unconvinced that a total of $2,000 per business was sufficient to compensate for their losses. In that vein, Gerson recommended an independent economic analysis of the TDC’s current plans, as the BID had once proposed under former councilman, now City Comptroller John Liu’s guidance: “Without a study, I don’t know how anyone can say what’s enough,” he said.

The former BID chairman also recommended gridlock analysis. Community activist Mandingo Tshaka, who spoke in favor of a larger buffer zone for Macedonia AME Church at the corner of Union and 38th Avenue and the inclusion of affordable housing for middle class families, accused Gerson of hypocrisy.

Tshaka chastised his coalition for its crowded choice of locale: “Where you’re holding this meeting now is improper,” he said of the sidewalk where pedestrians were walking into the street to bypass reporters blocking their path. “If you’re talking about traffic, get your act together,” he said.

Without the intervention of groups like the Coalition, Gerson believes that the bustling corner at Union and 39th may soon be a “dead zone.”

Mayor Mike Bloomberg thinks otherwise: the “transformation of an underutilized five-acre parking lot into a mixed-use urban center will establish a new center of activity for this vibrant community” and create 2,000 permanent jobs and 2,600 construction jobs, he said in a press release on Wednesday.

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