Fight brews over the future of Forest Hills

By Gabriel Rom

A new reality is hitting home for many residents of Forest Hills: Development has arrived.

In what is emerging as a battle over the future of the neighborhood’s character, a 12-story mixed-use apartment complex has been proposed to replace the string of independently run restaurants now occupying 70th Road, just off Austin Street, otherwise known by locals as Restaurant Row.

The controversial plan to erect a building at 107-18 70th Road would displace The Grill, Cabana and Moca Asian Cafe.

The developer currently has only the as-of-right ability to erect a seven-story, mixed-use building on the site, which comprises three lots. Adam Rothkrug, a lawyer for the developer, presented to Community Board 6 a plan for a taller building on the site. Board members must now decide whether to grant the developer a special permit to modify the height provisions by around 50 feet.

The building would be designed by Anthony Morali of Morali Architects, who also designed the Aston building, a luxury condo located on Queens Boulevard, less than two blocks away from 70th Road.

The proposal has set off a heated debate over what level of development is acceptable, as Restaurant Row stands out in the neighborhood as one of the few consciously designed public areas.

But Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6 which covers Forest Hills, isn’t panicking.

“Nothing is happening overnight,” he said.

The developer of the proposed site is also behind Restaurant Row — and Rothkrug signaled last week that the developer was interested in including restaurants in any future property.

“I agree that we may lose some of the character, but we hope and pray that the developer promotes restaurant row like he said he would when it’s all said and done,” Gulluscio said.

Rothkrug said demand for housing in Forest Hills has been reflected in the success of other luxury buildings in the area.

“The owner determined that it was a good time to proceed with development of his property,” he said.

As housing prices in Manhattan and Long Island City have continued to climb, Forest Hills and Rego Park have seen an influx of high-end housing developments that offer relatively affordable sale prices.

In October, a new seven-story condominium currently under construction near The Contour building at 97-45 Queens Blvd. marking another luxury project to pop up in the neighborhood.

“The reality is, given the track record here in Forest Hills, and the dreadfully poor oversight by public officials when it comes to development, I would not be surprised to see a construction project go forward that destroys Restaurant Row,” an anonymous blogger wrote on the site Edge of the City.

“Where is the oversight? Where is the planning? If it is there, it has failed dramatically over the past several decades when it comes to Austin Street.”

Residents echoed those concerns in a launched an online petition on Change.org against the project, which as of Wednesday afternoon had gathered more than 1,200 signatures.

The developer, meanwhile, will soon be filling the permit application.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at [email protected]cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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