Flushing discusses Commons plan

By Connor Adams Sheets

Flushing area residents stayed up until the wee hours Monday night awaiting their two minutes of comment on two proposed projects that are slated to permanently change the face of downtown Flushing.

The public hearing on the Flushing Commons and Macedonia Plaza projects was the final chance for residents and merchants to voice their thoughts on the projects before Community Board 7. The board did not vote on the proposed projects but will do so April 5.

The epic meeting, which began at 7 p.m. and lasted until about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, was peppered with moments of vitriol but was mostly civil, and about 70 people signed up to speak.

Supporters of Flushing Commons, led by City Councilmen Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), spoke favorably about the $800 million, mixed-use project planned for the current site of Municipal Lot 1, but many, including both councilmen, had lingering concerns.

“This project has much to offer in terms of community facilities and economic growth,” Koo said. “It will be considered the crown jewel not only of our downtown, but also the entire borough of Queens.”

Halloran was less glowing in his comments, although he does support the project if changes are made.

“We know that this is a necessary project,” he said. “But we also know that it needs to be done right.”

Another large contingent of residents, led by the predominantly Korean-American merchants of Union and other nearby streets, are largely opposed to the project as currently proposed.

“[Because of] the construction, all of the merchants of Union Street will be wiped out,” Ikwhan Rim, president of the Union Street Merchants Association, warned. “We’re not saying stop the development — we just want you to know that without any changes and without more parking, we’ll go out of business.”

A consensus seemed to emerge throughout the evening that most of the community supports the Macedonia project. The 14-story building with 140 affordable housing units, ground-floor retail space, a day-care center and a church, would be built on land owned by downtown Flushing’s 199-year-old Macedonia AME Church.

Flushing residents have long said the community is in desperate need of affordable housing.

Linda Atelaja’s 26-year-old daughter recently earned an advanced degree and got a job in accounting. But she lives with her mother because rents are too high to live elsewhere in Flushing, Atelaja said.

“It would be nice for this project at Macedonia to go forth so that she might be able to live in affordable housing,” she said.

The evening began with a discussion of the two projects, which ran until 11 p.m., when public comment began. The fact that public comment was left for the end drew the ire of several attendees.

“All that technological stuff that they discussed about the developments, all that tech stuff, that was for the board. They didn’t need to do that. That was done to discourage my people to get them to go home. That was intentional,” said Mandingo Tshaka, a Bayside community leader. “It was just unconscionable. You could see that we weren’t young people. But we stayed.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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