More than a hundred people packed a room at Elmhurst Hospital on March 13 to express their opposition to a proposed 13-story, mixed-use building on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights.
Sun Equity Partners and the Heskel Group purchased the property, the former Jackson Heights Cinema at 40-31 82nd St., for $27 million in 2016. The movie theater officially closed in 2014 after 90 years in business.
The developers presented their plan at a Community Board 4 meeting on Tuesday in the presence of angry Queens residents holding signs with phrases like “don’t target our community,” alluding to the Target that would anchor the building.
In the end, the board decided to vote against the proposal and to down-zone the site. Members said they would outline what they wanted to see on the site once they send their recommendations to the Department of City Planning.
Developers are requesting to re-zone the current site from an R6 zone with a commercial component to an R7X zone with a similar commercial overlay, allowing them to build higher. They are also requesting to designate the site as a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) area. MIH requires a portion of new housing to be permanently affordable in certain areas that are rezoned.
Most community boards in Queens and Borough President Melinda Katz voted against this zoning text amendment in 2015 because it allows developers to reduce or waive that requirement if they can prove that hardship makes developing these units unfeasible. The zoning change would allow the developers to construct a larger building with more residential units.
Under the current zoning, the developers can build a 10-story building with one-story of commercial space spanning 51,921 square feet and nine stories of residential space with 77 market rate units. It would also include 1,996 square feet of community facility space and 130 parking spaces on the cellar floor.
If the rezoning is approved — it will have to go through the Queens Borough President, City Planning and the City Council — the developers will construct a 13-story building with 120 units, of which 30 to 36 would be considered affordable. The commercial space would span 76,375 square feet and would stretch from the cellar to second floor. The community facility space, which developers say would be leased at a reduced rate to a local nonprofit, would stay the same square footage.
Residents had a host of issues with the project, including the Target, which they argued would put local small shops out of business. There were also concerns about the car congestion it would cause and how that would effect nearby Elmhurst Hospital ambulatory services and how the developers defined affordability.
The median income of a family of three in Community Board 4 is $44,865, according to data presented by the board. Developers are proposing to price the affordable units at 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). A family of three with an 80 percent AMI would be bringing home $68,700, according to city guidelines.
Shekar Krishnan, a Jackson Heights resident and lawyer representing low-income tenants said the project would be a “magnet for gentrification.”
“The whole notion that this rezoning will build affordable housing, that is absolutely untrue,” he said. “Affordable housing is actually not affordable at all to our communities that live here. The whole concept of relying on private developers to build affordable housing does not work. The incentives don’t align and developers like these will not build housing that is really affordable enough to benefit our community.”
Zang, who owns and has run J and B Gift Shop at 40-08 82nd St. for eight years, spoke at the meeting through a translator. A father and breadwinner for multiple families, he said he is struggling with the business but “the community is loving.”
“The minute he first opened the store, the Latino community, the Tibetan community always shopped there and he said his products are much better than Target’s,” the translator said. “As a small business owner this is truly a detriment to his children, to his business, to the community he loves, to the Tibetan community, to the Latino community, to the very diverse community he wishes to serve.”
A spokesperson for state Senator Jose Peralta said at the meeting that the elected official urges Community Board 4 to vote no on the proposal and that it would negatively impact small businesses in the neighborhood.
Catalina Cruz, Jessica Ramos and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are running for state Assembly, Senate and Congressional seats, respectively, also came out against the plan.
Councilman Francisco Moya, who was in Albany to discuss the upcoming State budget, said he is looking “seriously” at the rezoning. Moya also added that he will “fight” to get City Planning to conduct a comprehensive study to down-zone parts of the district.
“Unfortunately, the Target many vocally opposed at last night’s public hearing was announced last May and the application for this rezoning submitted in September under the previous Council member — getting the ball rolling before I even announced my candidacy for the City Council,” he said. “As the current situation stands, the development could move forward as of right with commercial and market rate housing regardless of community input. Because of this I will be engaging in serious conversations with all parties involved. Both the Borough President and City Planning Commission must approve the plan before it even comes before the City Council.”
Board 4 also voted to send Moya, who chairs the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, a letter asking for support to stop the development.
Several residents requested that Board 4 not only vote no to the proposal but also request that the city down-zone the site. The public hearing portion of the meeting lasted for more than two hours, with dozens of Queens residents urging the board to turn down the proposal.
“I hated when they tore down that theater because I used to go there all the time,” said Sandra Muñoz, a member of the board. “I don’t know why we let that slip through our hands. I love my community the way it is. I don’t want to be LIC. I don’t want to be Williamsburg. I don’t want to be Harlem. I’m Elmhurst all the way.”