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$150 Million Plan To Expand Mall Residents Fear Traffic Congestion

A glittering shoppers paradise was unveiled last week by developers of the Queens Mall, but worried Elmhurst neighbors, apprehensive over spreading commercial encroachment on their doorsteps, gave the multi-million dollar renovation plan a cold shoulder.
The one-hour multi-media presentation, designed to win the support of Community Board 4 members at a public hearing, depicted a dramatically enhanced shopping facility filled with light emanating from six skylights, a reconfigured traffic pattern with vehicular bridges, pedestrian connections and a new eye-catching seamless facade along Queens Boulevard.
But the prospect of an enlarged mall, the creation of a new Sony Theater, the expansion of St. Johns Hospital, another planned multiplex theater atop Sterns on Queens Boulevard, a Sears auto store, an outpatient medical facility, a Home Depot on nearby Woodhaven Boulevard, and visions of traffic gridlock, cooled the ardor of community residents.
The audience which filled the cafeteria at St. Johns Hospital listened intently as city officials from the Economic Development Corporation and the malls owners, The Macerich Company of Santa Monica, described the comprehensive Queens Mall facelift designed to turn the 25-year facility into a 21st century retail showplace.
But skeptical Community Board members and mall neighbors found little to cheer about. "Were under siege, under attack," charged Marie Butcher, an Elmhurst resident. "You see what its like to walk here. Youre taking your life in your hands. Dont put all the developments in our area."
Another critic of the plan had this to say: "Whats good for business is not good for Elmhurst. Our quality of life is in chaos."
Backers of the mall voiced their views as well.
One supporter of the plan took the floor to say, "You can’t stop progress. The mall is a good neighbor and deserves our support."
Bob Previdi of Forest Hills proposed that the city extend the subway station into the mall, noting that a half million riders use the Queens subways daily.
Community Board 4 will vote on the proposal on March 4, but its rulings are not binding.
The expanded mall will add 421,000 square feet of space to the malls current 605,000 square feet and add 1,300 jobs to the current 1,800 job picture. Parking expansion will include 1,100 parking spaces — with 300 earmarked for commuters. The total number of parking spaces will grow to 2,100.
Lorraine ONeil, the malls general manager, said the renovation would triple the leasable space. The mall currently houses 73 retailers and 12 food court operators.
Macerich representatives presented a video model of the reconfigured traffic patternone that takes into account the increased flow coming from the proposed Sony multiplex theater adjoining the mall. Under the plan, two-way streets would be turned into one-way arteries. The new approach is designed to add 30 percent "green time" to the traffic flow.
The proposed plan will change the face of the Queens Mall and move the mall entrance from Queens Boulevard to 92 Street.
According to Melanie Meyers, a land-use attorney for the developer, multiple variances will be sought including transfer of the municipal lot to theEconomic Development Corporation and then into private hands.
Bernie Kalous, environmental specialist for the developer, said 59th Avenue would be turned into one-way westbound to Junction Boulevard, which would remain two-way, and transform 57th Avenue into a one-way westbound artery. The goal is to move traffic more efficiently with more "green time."
The Macerich officials said the project would mean:
Better stores and improved environment.
A larger common area with greater amenities for shoppers.
An additional 21,165 parking spaces.
An increase in tax revenues from $11 million to $18 million.
Improved 24 hour security.

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