Don’t serve up Forest Hills’ “restaurant row” to developers on a platter, residents pleaded during Wednesday’s Community Board 6 meeting.
Attendees slammed a proposed 12-story development to be constructed at 107-18 Queens Blvd., which would wipe out the restaurants on the adjacent block of 70th Road between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street. It is the only place where outdoor seating is permitted in the area.
Currently, the developer can only erect a seven-story, mixed-use building on the site, which is made up of three lots. Adam Rothkrug, a lawyer for the developer, presented to Board 6 a plan for a taller building on the site. Board members must decide whether to grant the developer a special permit to modify the height provisions.
“The character [of the neighborhood] is going to change so violently,” said Murray Gottlieb, a Forest Hills resident who lives on Yellowstone Boulevard.
“Forest Hills is a little mini-Manhattan and the restaurants there, they’re so good,” his wife Maxine said. “You’re ruining Forest Hills.”
No plans have been filed with the Department of Buildings as of Wednesday. According to Rothkrug, if the developer builds as of right, residents will be left with two buildings on 70th Road and Austin Street respectively. The 12-story project proposal would provide 61 parking spots, ground floor commercial space and a rooftop garden.
Oleg Kaz, owner of Mediterranean restaurant The Grill, said he has spent more than $600,000 to run his restaurant. He signed a lease on the space two years ago against the advice of his lawyer because developers had previously expressed interest in the site.
Kaz’s lease includes a clause that would allow the landlord to kick him out if developers wanted to purchase the property.
“When I spoke to the landlord, he said to me in exact words, ‘Don’t worry about it; we have nothing planned in the future,'” Kaz said. “The community is unique; 70th Road is the most famous restaurant road in Forest Hills. It’s a shame that the richer get richer.”
Representatives for the developer have said that the restaurant owners are welcome to come back and lease space in the building once construction is finished. But Kaz said that most restaurant owners will not come back.
“It’s not going to happen unless they’re going to build us whatever we lost,” Kaz said. “You build a restaurant according to your menu, to your design, to your concept. Every little thing counts in the restaurant world.”
Residents have started an online petition to “save restaurant row.” As of Thursday morning, 1,158 people have signed it.
Nico Bernuth, a board member for Lane Towers, the 19-story condo located next to the proposed site, said the additional traffic on the “one-way alleyway” caused by the parking garage would “devastate the neighborhood.”
“When we heard about the construction of this building right next to our building, everybody was very shocked and heartbroken to see what’s happening to the neighborhood,” Bernuth said. “70th Road is an anchor to the rest of the neighborhood.”