By Jeremy Walsh
Developer O'Connor Capital Partners is seeking a variance to build a 13-story building in a seven-story zone in order to have enough market-rate units to compensate for the estimated $8 million in cleanup the property will require.The structure, built at 5-11 47th Ave., will feature 188 market-rate units and 245 units for doctoral students and faculty of the City University of New York.It will also be home to the Queens Council on the Arts's new headquarters, a 6,000-square-foot storefront abutting a 5,000-square-foot courtyard the group will be able to use for art exhibits.The artists were generally positive about the CUNY features and the QCA site, but chafed at the size of the development.”It's a precedent that extends breaches in the zoning,” said Kenny Greenberg, an artist and Long Island City resident.”We'd like to build a 27-story building like the ones across the street, let's face it,” said Sid Davidoff, attorney for the developer and the QCA. “We were hoping this would be a more acceptable compromise for the community.”The site was formerly a metal sheeting factory, which leaked contaminants like selenium and arsenic into the soil, the developer said. The cleanup is expected to be finished by this fall. The developer expects the building to be completed by the summer of 2010.Several of the artists present accused developers of building up the desirability of the neighborhood by touting the arts community while pushing the artists out.”I think most of them are,” responded Jay Valgora, principal architect of the project. “I think most of the development in Long Island City has been terrible.”Queens West has bad architecture, poor access to public space and has not supported the arts community, he said. “I think it's bad for our profession.”Hoong Yee Krakauer, executive director of the QCA, was excited about the organization's move from its current 800-square-foot headquarters in Forest Park. She said the new space “offers Long Island City and western Queens artists a place to network and build the kind of community that is important anywhere.”The market-rate units would go for between 10 percent to 15 percent less than the neighboring luxury high-rises, the developer said, with a one-bedroom apartment at around $3,000 a month.Some locals defended the project, saying the site is not useful even as artist studios, because of contamination.Lynn Quigley, of Long Island City-based Plaxall Corp., is preparing to open a building with combined living and workspace for artists next door to the property. She said the current buildings on the O'Connor property are not handicap-accessible and could not be rented out.Valgora emphasized that the combination of private and public use on the property was not something every developer would try.”We're trying to be the good guys,” he said. “It probably won't help everybody, but we're doing a heck of a lot more than the other guys.”Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.