By Mark Hallum
Borough President Melinda Katz issued a recommendation on May 10 to approve a zoning change that would allow developers to build 13 stories instead of 10 on an empty lot in Elmhurst with a set of conditions.
City Planning is now expected to make the decision to approve June 27 before it goes to a City Council vote whether or not to allow the widely opposed building containing 40 percent affordable housing and a Target center.
The developers changed course recently on the project by adjusting the rental rates they intended to establish for low-income residents after anti-gentrification groups raised concerns about displacement.
“When they have these public hearings and they invite members of the community to speak but in the end vote against the 1,000 plus committee members represented by the 11 or 12 organizations that signed petitions against this rezoning… I think that said a lot about where [Katz] stands,” said Patricia Chou, an organizer with Queens Neighborhoods United, the primary opposition to the proposed project.
Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group revealed their revised plan for the 13-story housing and retail structure, with a Target store planned for the ground level, to an advisory land use hearing before Queens Borough President Melinda Katz May 3.
Katz’s only request in the May 10 recommendation was for the developers to maintain a minimum of 30 percent affordable units, manage traffic congestion and that the Target hire neighborhood residents only.
At the May 3 hearing, attended by anti-gentrification groups from western Queens, Sun Equity attorney Nora Martins said they were shooting to accommodate $41,000 annual median income combined per household in 40 percent of the units now as opposed to the earlier proposed $61,000.
Community Board 4 at the March meeting had already voted against the requested zoning change to allow the developers to build three stories taller than the 10-story cap at 40-31 82nd St. Instead, CB 4 recommended that City Planning downzone the property to prevent gentrification.
But the hearing at Borough Hall, although well-attended by opponents of the housing and Target store, was in stark contrast to the March CB 4 meeting, which saw the auditorium at Elmhurst Hospital packed with protesters.
Of the 31 speakers, 19 of them were in favor of the project claiming it would update and expand the aging housing stock while bringing in jobs through Target’s payroll.
City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) issued a letter in favor of the development to the borough president’s office.
Many of the neighborhood residents have expressed dismay at the community losing its movie theater in 2017 in the spot now up for development, one of the few in the city that offered Spanish subtitles to the mostly Hispanic residents.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall