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Queens Chronicle

Residents say 82nd Street rezoning plan could be a deadly one

Concerns over the development's worsening of traffic outside of Elmhurst Hospital Center

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2018 2:49 pm

Queens Neighborhoods United member Leticia Ochoa thought she was watching her young son die one morning a few years ago.

He woke up, started crying and started shaking," Ochoa said. "His face turned white and his lips turned purple. He wasn't responding, so I really thought he died in my arms."

But not only did it take far too long for an ambulance to arrive at her home, the East Elmhurst resident said, getting stuck in traffic on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights while rushing back to Elmhurst Hospital Center was something out of a nightmare.

"It was horrendous," Ochoa said. "I thought my son died in my arms, so I was panicking screaming and crying."

Her son survived, luckily, but she fears other kids will not if the lot at the confluence of 82nd Street, Ithaca Street and Baxter Avenue is rezoned to make way for a 13-story development, as planned.

Ochoa was one of a few dozen neighborhood activists to protest on Thursday against The Shoppes at 82nd Street proposal near the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst border — a building that, if constructed, would include a Target, other retail stores and 120 units of housing.

The specific argument made at Thursday's press conference was that the increase in vehicular traffic at the site would only worsen existing congestion on Baxter Avenue, which runs along the side of the hospital where ambulances drop off patients in urgent need of care.

One of the morning's speakers was hospital nurse Jomarie Cruz, who works specifically with newborn babies and new mothers. She called the proposed structure a "really, really terrible idea."

"While the hospital is working so diligently to increase access and care to our community, the proposed development will delay this access," Cruz said. "When a woman goes into labor early or if there's a pregnancy-related emergency, the ability for her to get to the hospital is a matter of life and death."

Also in attendance was Michael Greco, vice president of the city's Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and FDNY Inspectors Union.

Speaking to the Chronicle after the press conference, he said he believes the community's fears to be entirely valid — while pointing toward an 18-wheeler that was double-parked just a few feet from the hospital's ambulance entrance during the press conference.

"This happens to be a decent day, we only have one double-parked 18-wheeler. But there are times this turns into a bottleneck and people can't get through," Greco said. "We've sometimes waited five or six minutes to get into the ER. We've pulled patients out of the ambulance and walked them in from off the street.

"On school days, with trucks making deliveries in the morning and afternoon, this is very rough," he added. "There is a legitimate traffic issue here."

Two candidates for office — Assembly hopeful Catalina Cruz and state Senate challenger Jessica Ramos — also spoke at the event, blasting the developers, Sun Equity Partners, for not considering the impact the proposal could have on the hospital.

"We cannot allow a construction project to endanger our community," Cruz said. "I cannot imagine being in an emergency and being told a loved one died because they got stuck behind one of the many delivery trucks that are going to be entering the site."

While Elmhurst Hospital Center is not in state Senate District 13 — represented by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), whom Ramos is challenging — she added that the facility is where most constituents there in need of care go, as there is no hospital within the jurisdiction.

"A lot of people may say that we're in need of affordable housing and this is a chance to put affordable housing where it's never been before. But we're yet to see who it's affordable for," she said. We stand here today to reject this project and to make sure that we have a hospital that can serve us because our community doesn't just need single-payer healthcare.

"Our community also needs enough hospital beds, services, doctors and nurses to make sure every one of our neighbors is served."

In March, Community Board 4 voted unanimously against the rezoning proposal that would allow for the 40-31 82 St. structure to be built as planned.

But after the developers, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, added more units of affordable housing, Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) announced last month that they would support the project.

The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the plan Monday.

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