Queens Community Board 11 has given a big-box chain the green light to alter and move into a massive Douglaston storefront.
On Feb. 5, property owners presented a variance proposal at the Community Board 11 meeting which would allow them to enlarge the existing main building within the Douglaston Plaza Shopping Center, located at 242-02 61st Ave., allowing for Lowe’s Home Improvement to open up a new location at the space. The main building would also be enlarged just over 15,000 square feet.
The chain looks to assume the storefront on the upper level that previously housed Macy’s, as well as the lower-level storefront that houses neighborhood movie theater, MovieWorld. Lowe’s arrival is contingent upon the approval of the variance, according to Jon Popin, the legal representative for property owner Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation (AAC).
“In marketing the site, it began apparent immediately that there would be no one-for-one change. In other words, we were not gonna be able to get another department store to come in to the shopping center,” he said. “Department stores are not coming; they’re going.”
In a close vote of 18 in favor, 12 opposed, the motion to approve the request passed. The variance must still go before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for final approval.
After a presentation about the proposed alterations and subsequent business operations from Popin, members of the public took to the microphone to show their support for MovieWorld. The business would be displaced in the new deal, thus presenting a loss to the community, residents argued. They also launched a petition to stop the movie theater from closing its doors and have collected more than 1,000 signatures.
“It’s a family-owned theater, unlike the mega-venues in Queens and Nassau [County], where we feel lost in the crowds,” resident Rosie Kurland said. “The affordable prices also help.”
Another resident who spoke pointed out that the theater also hosts dozens of birthday parties and school field trips every year. The closure would present a loss of local kids, he said.
Rosemarie Guidice, who represents local homeowners as president of the Douglaston Townhouse Condominiums Association, spoke in favor of Lowe’s arrival.
“Without Lowe’s, we don’t have an anchor tenant there,” she said. “What’s going to happen to those homes that are existing? What’s gonna happen to our quality of life, our property value?”
Douglaston Civic Association President Sean Walsh said the group is withholding its support of the proposal until plans are put in place to install “No Truck Traffic” signage on the neighborhood’s side streets.
Popin said owners are working to revitalize “a faceless shopping center.”
“What the owners of the shopping center are trying to do is re-vitalize and re-position the shopping enter, but really keep it from closing,” Popin said. “If the shopping center closes, it’s likely, because this is a residential district, it probably won’t be redeveloped as another shopping center; it may be residential housing, affordable housing.”
The statement brought an immediate response from board chairperson Christine Haider.
“We do not know what might go in,” Haider said. “We appreciate what you’re trying to do, but stop speculating.”
During discussion prior to the vote, board member Janet McEneaney suggested the board table the vote so members could better understand the proposal. Another board member expressed concerns with voting on a plan that would displace a fellow business owner.
Alexander Levine, who works for AAC, pointed out that though MovieWorld has six years left on their lease, the property owner does have the option to buy out the lease.
“That’s an important point of clarity,” he said.
Levine also said the shopping center’s Toys R Us — a chain that recently closed around 180 stores nationwide after declaring bankruptcy — and Modell’s Sporting Goods are “on their last legs” due to both economic issues and shopping center conditions.
After the issue of the lease was brought up, MovieWorld owner Russel Levinson decided to address the crowd.
“There is a buyout clause in our lease, which [AAC] has told us they want to exercise,” Levinson said. “That being said, we are doing fine and we would like to stay for the remainder of our lease, which is six years.”
The variance will go before the Board of Standards and Appeals for final approval.