By Mark Hallum
As the City Planning Commission recommended the approval of a ULERP application on Monday for a partial affordable housing structure in Elmhurst to rise higher than the zoning allows, activists and political hopefuls are planning their next move to oppose the building they see as a gentrifying force in their community.
Democratic political candidates Catalina Cruz and Jessica Ramos stood in front of the trauma center at Elmhurst Hospital with staff from the facility July 5 claiming the increase in vehicular traffic from more residents could impede ambulance access to the medical institution.
“The safety of our community is paramount. I am immensely disappointed in the City Planning Commission’s vote to allow this proposal to move forward despite the groundswell of opposition by the community board, local residents, small business owners, and medical professionals. The EMT union, which represents the ambulance drivers working at Elmhurst Hospital, has publicly stated that this development will be an obstruction to their ability to save lives,” Cruz, who is running for the state Assembly seat occupied by Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights), said.
Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group have been seeking a zoning change that would allow the developers to build 13 stories instead of 10 on an empty lot at 40-31 82nd St., which would feature 40 percent affordable housing units and a Target center.
The proposal has caused a stir in the community where many attendees at various meetings discussed being priced out of the neighborhood as is and that the proposal did not have deep enough affordability with only 40 percent of units meeting a 40,000 a year household salary.
The community expressed fears the Target would run the many immigrant-owned mom and pop shops into the ground as well with many echoing the phrase “Target is the new Walmart.”
The City Planning Commission greenlighted the application Monday.
“Elmhurst Hospital is already overburdened. The proposed 82nd Street development does not meet our community’s needs,” Ramos said at the July 5 news conference prior to that commission vote. “As it stands, it will increase traffic congestion on two one-way streets and will be a major hindrance on ambulance response times. I urge the plan to be voted down.”
Ramos, the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a Jackson Heights activist, is running against state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) in the September primary.
The housing development has been through the ringer after being rejected by Community Board 2’s zoning committee and later rejected by the advisory board almost unanimously at its general meeting in March.
Borough President Melinda Katz recommended the City Planning Commission approve the zoning change on the condition the developers maintain a minimum of 30 percent affordable units, manage traffic congestion and that the Target outlet on the ground floor hire only neighborhood residents.
“We are as community members are against the rezoning of [the 82nd Street development] because it poses a severe hazard to Elmhurst Hospital and to the lives in our community,” Tanya Mattos of Queens Neighborhoods United said.
The July 5 news conference was attended by Michael Greco, vice president of the Local 2507 Union of EMTs who said the project could affect the ability of drivers to access the trauma center. Jomarie Cruz, who works as a nurse at the facility, concurred that increased traffic would impede life-saving medical attention for patients.
The 82nd Street development has yet to pass a City Council vote for full approval, but was backed by former City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and continued support from her successor, Francisco Moya (D-Corona).
Moya did not respond to a request for comment before press time, though a representative from his office has said Moya negotiated with the developers for deeper affordability, which they met with 40 percent inclusionary housing at a lower AMI.
Ferreras-Copeland, however, disputed she had supported the development as currently proposed.
“I want to set the record straight. I never supported the 82nd Street re-development as currently proposed. I met with the developer twice to encourage them to build a school or a community center in 2016 and early 2017. Unfortunately, the developer did not pursue either option which would directly benefited the community.”
(This story has been updated with a quote from Julissa Ferreras-Copeland)
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall