Board delays Douglaston Waldbaum’s decision

The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), an appointed group that can relax zoning provisions, but is not answerable to the City Council, has ignored Community Board votes and postponed its decision on an application by a private developer which could leave thousands of northeast Queens residents without a supermarket.
AAC Douglaston Plaza LLC, the entity of Ashkenazi Acquisition Corporation, a Manhattan-based developer which owns $4 billion worth of commercial real estate including the Douglaston Plaza Shopping Center, is seeking a change in the zoning of the property, which they purchased from Yale University about two years ago for a reported $65 million.
They claim they are losing money at the location, and want to change the allowable “use group” of the building which has housed a Waldbaum’s supermarket for 32 years so they can rent it to a Best Buy electronics store, claiming that “supermarkets just can’t afford market rent” at the location.
The BSA held a second hearing on the request on the afternoon of September 11, at their headquarters at 40 Rector Street in downtown Manhattan. They decided to “continue,” the hearing until October 30. They have not yet released a schedule for that date. The board usually hears two or more applications in a day.
Local residents are up in arms over the proposal, which they say would unacceptably add to traffic on the Long Island Expressway service road, and leave them with no supermarket within a reasonable distance.
Ashkenazi has claimed that a traffic study it commissioned showed that the electronics store would generate less traffic than the supermarket.
Critics scoff at this notion, pointing out that there is no Best Buy in all of the Bronx and the proposed location would be the nearest for many living there and the nearest stores to Douglaston are in Rego Park and Valley Stream, in Nassau County.
At a previous hearing before Community Board 11, representatives of the company claimed they were losing money at the site, partly because of the low rent paid by Waldbaum’s, but refused to substantiate the claim, saying that as a privately held corporation, they were not obliged to do so.
After saying that there was no supermarket interested in paying the market rent at the location, threatening to sell the property to “a Donald Trump” for high-rise development and walking out of the meeting, the company’s application to the Community Board was rejected.
Little Neck resident Anna Levine, a harsh critic of the current owner, called figures presented by Ashkenazi “padded and fudged,” and called their account of dealings with Waldbaum’s “an utter misrepresentation.” Levine said in a letter to the chair of the BSA that the Douglaston Plaza’s owner “has not been forthright in presenting its case to the Board.”
According to the company’s web site, “(Their) investment strategy aims to acquire irreplaceable properties in premier locations with the potential for significant increase in cash flow and residual value.”
They also say that, “Each real estate asset is selected based on a long-term holding strategy.” However, as Levine noted, although the Waldbaum’s lease runs through 2010, Ashkenazi has been “offering to buy-out the lease now, and get Best Buy in as soon as possible.”

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