Proposed RKO Keith’s condo building height poses risks, lawmaker says

Photo via Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects

Flushing lawmaker is calling on a federal agency to re-evaluate a developer’s plan to build a 16-story project in the neighborhood after mounting concerns with its proximity to local air traffic.

On Dec. 18, Assemblyman Ron Kim penned a letter to Jerome Mellody, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Deputy Chief Counsel for Litigation and Employment Law. Kim stated the coordinate points for the luxury condo building slated to be built atop the iconic RKO Keith’s Theater were “deceptively presented” to Community Board 7 by developers, Xinyuan Real Estate. The board approved the plans for the 210-foot-tall building at 135-29 Northern Blvd. in 2015, when they were presented by the previous owner.

The FAA limits the height of buildings located near an airport to 195 feet. The community board approved the plans for the 210-foot building under the impression that the entire planar building was including in the study, according to Kim.

However, the assemblyman has since learned that the federal agency conducted eight aeronautical obstruction evaluations for single independent coordinate points — not the whole building.

“This is a significant safety hazard for low-flying planes in the neighborhoods of my district, which are located directly between LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airpoint,” Kim writes to Mellody.

“It is clear that no construction should be considered for this location unless one complete Obstruction Evaluation for an entire building at the same height has been conducted,” Kim added. “The safety of my residents remains my office’s most important priority.”

The discovery was first made by Chris Kellburg, a resident part of the movement to save the RKO from demolition and restore it as a community arts center. Richard Thornhill, a Forest Hills resident, is also at the forefront of that fight.

“Since the 80s, developer after developer has come to the site of the former RKO and broken promises, deceived the people of Queens, and have put the area as well as it’s people in danger,” Thornhill said. “Speaking on my own, I know that the best solution is to restore the theater under the watchful eye of the city so these continuing problems can end once and for all.”

In October, Thornhill created a petition to save the theater from demolition, QNS previously reported. The petition has close to 3,000 signatures.

The RKO Keith’s movie theater opened in 1928 and was granted partial interior landmark status on its ornate grand lobby and ticket foyer spaces shortly before its closing in 1986. The site has been vacant ever since, passing through several different developers who tried unsuccessfully to re-develop the site.

A recent report says Xinyuan Real Estate’s plan now faces delays. A broker who has worked with Xinyuan told publication The Real Deal that “the project is stalled and there are landmark issues.”

Demolition permits for the site have not yet been filed with the city’s Department of Buildings, according to the agency’s database.

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