Feb. 28, 2018 By Tara Law
Developers are seeking a controversial zoning change that would bring a 13-story, 120-unit building to 82nd Street— the site of the former Jackson Heights Cinema.
Many residents and civic groups are alarmed by the proposal, which they say would undermine the character of the neighborhood and drive up real estate prices. They are also concerned about school overcrowding and claim the project would exacerbate street traffic and subway congestion.
Developers Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group are permitted under current zoning to build a 9-story, 77-unit building at 40-31 82nd Street. However, should the property be rezoned, they would be able to construct an additional four floors and 43 dwelling units.
The developers’ rezoning plans were certified by the NYC Department of City Planning on Jan. 29.
The developers purchased the property, an irregularly-shaped lot located about one block from Roosevelt Avenue, in Sept. 2016 for $27 million. The former movie theater was demolished last fall.
Neighborhood critics argue that the building—which would be 145 feet tall—would be too big and would overwhelm the mostly six or seven story buildings in the vicinity. The only other large building in the area is the 11-story Elmhurst Hospital, which is a block and half away.
The building would have three commercial floors, including a cellar, at its base. That space would consist of ground floor retail, community facilities (a non-profit has been selected) and other commercial uses.
Target has agreed to be a tenant, and would take 22,700 square feet for an ExpressTarget store. The company signed a 15-year lease in April 2017.
The remaining 11 floors would contain 120 apartment units, including up to 36 affordable units. The plans also call for 128 parking spaces at the sub cellar level. The developers aim to complete the project by 2020.
The plans were put in front of the City Planning Commission on Jan. 29, kicking off the nine-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. The commissioners raised concerns about the scale of the development.
“It’s essentially double the height of the R6B buildings,” said Commissioner Anne Levin, referring to the surrounding six-and-seven story structures.
The commissioners also noted that the three roads that border the site— 82nd Street, Ithaca Street and Baxter Avenue— are classified as “narrow streets,” which could create issues with congestion on the roadways.
The entrance to the building for the residents would be on Baxter Street, according to the plans.
Community organizations Newtown Civic Association and Queens Neighborhoods United have expressed concerns about the impact of the development on the neighborhood.
The groups argue that the new building would hurt independent retailers, increase street traffic and put additional pressure on public transportation.
The organizations also say that the plans do not include enough affordable housing units and that they would be too expensive given the income levels of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst residents.
The developers have put forward two affordable housing options in accordance with the Mandatory Inclusion Housing (MIH) text required by city law. They have yet to decide which one.
The first option under MHI would be to set aside 25 percent of the units to households that make up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or about $57,240 for a family of four. The second option would be to set aside 30 percent of the units for those who make up to 80 percent AMI, or about $76,300 for a family of four.
The AMI, which is based on the income levels of residents of the New York region, is deemed too high for low-income residents in the neighborhood.
Grassroots organization Queens Neighborhoods United, which advocates against gentrification and displacement, claims that the developers have shown a “blatant disregard and disrespect toward out community.”
The group, in a letter, accuses the developers of ignoring the impact of the building “on access to transportation, the safety of its workers, affordable housing, mom and pop small businesses, congestion in the area and access to the nearby Elmhurst Hospital.”
The organization said that it was particularly concerned about Target, claiming that the retail giant has history of driving small businesses out of business.
Leslie Ramos, the executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership— which represents businesses along two and a half blocks of 82nd Street, including the building site— said that the reaction of area businesses is mixed.
“It depends on the kind of business,” Ramos said. “The restaurants and services are very eager because there will be more foot traffic. Retail is more concerned.”
The 82nd Street Partnership has not taken an official position on the rezoning, Ramos said. She said the decision is best left to the community.
The plans are in the midst of going before Community Board 4 as part of ULURP process. The community board will be holding a public hearing on the proposal and submit a recommendation to the City Planning Commission.
After the community board has submitted a recommendation, the request will be reviewed in turn by the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and finally the Mayor.
A public hearing is scheduled for March 13 at 7 p.m. at Elmhurst Hospital, Room A122. The community board will vote on the proposal immediately after the public hearing.
The developers did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
NOTE: The first 18 minutes of video covers the proposal