By Mark Hallum
The city Department of Buildings issued a stop work order as of Aug. 29 on the controversial development at 82nd Street and Baxter Avenue in Elmhurst after the application to have the plot rezoned was challenged in City Council.
Anti-gentrification group Queens Neighborhoods United and City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) praised the challenge, claiming the Target slated for the location was no different than any other proposal brought forward by the developers, Sun Equity and Heskel Group, which would only drive residents and business out of the community.
The area is zoned R6/C1-3 which allows for businesses that serve “local consumer needs,” such as laundromats and bodegas. The challenge through the DOB labels the development at 40-31 82nd St. as a “department store,” which is not allowed under the zoning.
“It’s been obvious from day one that the Target slated to open at the Shoppes at 82nd Street near the border of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights would have devastating effects on local businesses and the character of these neighborhoods,” Moya said. “I have no monopoly on this perspective — it would have been clear to anyone who had asked. This project is and has always been unwanted in our community and deeply unpopular among nearly every resident I’ve spoken with about it. Furthermore, the Target does not conform to this property’s current zoning and should not proceed. I welcome the zoning challenge and I hope this sets a precedent that major corporations cannot elbow their way into neighborhoods without being called to account.”
According to the DOB, the stop work order was issued because of the zoning challenge and developers will have to adjust their plans before moving forward with the project.
“The city’s zoning text is very clear about use groups. In what world is Target, which occupies the same market as Walmart and Amazon, not a department store,” QNU organizer Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez said, citing a recent report released by the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development. “We know that, in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, the small business community sustains over a third of jobs in the area. Why is the city allowing a new incarnation of Walmart to exploit these loopholes when they know it will absolutely drive out the small businesses that support our working-class immigrant communities?”
Paula Segal, an attorney with the Equitable Neighborhoods Practice of the Community Development Project, which also represents QNU, claimed the DOB was doing its job in enforcing a zoning resolution from her organization.
“It’s the role of the Department of Buildings to make sure that all new construction proposed in the city complies with our carefully considered Zoning Resolution,” Segal said. “The Zoning Resolution is clear that only retail that meets neighborhood needs — small stores where residents can buy essentials — is allowed on this lot in Elmhurst. Residents simply asked the DOB to do its job — and it did.”
Activists from QNU celebrated another victory over the developers at this site in July, following the announcement that Sun Equity would withdraw its ULURP application with the City Planning Commission for the rights to build a 13-story partial affordable housing structure in Elmhurst with Target on the ground level.
The ULURP proposal caused a stir in the community where many attendees at various community meetings discussed being priced out of the neighborhood as it is and that the housing development did not have deep enough affordability with only 40 percent of units meeting a $40,000-a-year household salary.
The community expressed fears that 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.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall