By Mark Hallum
It may or may not have been a last ditch effort for redemption at Middle Village’s Rentar Plaza, but the development company operating the site claims a proposal to add more truck unloading bays could possibly save the shopping center from becoming a ghost town.
The only thing standing between the development and achieving the goal of replacing its former tenants — Kmart and Toys “R” Us — was Community Board 5’s approval of an application to the city Department of Transportation (DOT).
But during the advisory body’s Jan. 9 meeting, Board 5 members found it less than an ideal condition to take a vote since their decision was due to DOT the following day — leaving no time for the Transportation Committee to hold its own meeting on the plans and deliberate.
On those grounds, the entire advisory council voted unanimously against approving Rentar’s application on Thursday night, according to Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano.
“We’re opposed unless we’re given the opportunity work something out better,” Giordano said. “I got to make a case for the community. My job is to protect the pedestrians and the drivers, not the business. I want to help the business but never at the risk of the pedestrians and the motorists. Public safety comes first.”
Giordano said Board 5 may take another look at the proposal if given more time or if there are any changes to the proposal.
“We do not have a tenant lined up,” Dennis Ratner, president of Rentar Development, said in a call to TimesLedger. “We’re talking to several different users and we need some truck access to that section of the building… If it’s going to go retail we’re going to have to divide it up.”
The proposal would allow truck access by two bays in the front of the building from Metropolitan Avenue and asks for DOT’s approval for a curb cut and a driveway.
The bays would be located about 125 feet from the exit to the parking lot to the east of the building and require the removal of two planters out front, according to the plans. Since the raised retaining wall planters were originally installed with DOT’s approval on the sidewalk, they now need the agency’s blessing to be removed.
Felice Bassin from Rentar presented the full plan to the community board at the Jan. 9 meeting and argued that with retailers like Target opting against larger facilities, Rentar must subdivide to make the shopping center more attractive.
“The retail market has changed tremendously, especially in the last five years,” Bassin said. “We are out in the market looking for tenants to that space, but I can tell you there isn’t a tenant that can take or that will take 145,000 [square feet] today. They just don’t take that size of store.”
Rentar feels it must break the 190,000 total square feet of the space into three parts instead of just two, and three tenants will probably not be satisfied with current eight loading bays located to the west of the building.
According to CB5 Chair Vincent Arcuri, Metropolitan Avenue was originally mapped as a boulevard but never built out in the style of one. Hence, the one to two lanes in each direction.
There we a number of members voicing concerns that the with trucks loading in the front of the building, massive amounts of foot traffic from arriving M trains would pose a hazard.
Impacts to traffic was also questioned to which Rentar said trucks will be able to make “one movement” with the layout of the new bays and trucks will back into the building utilizing only one lane of Metropolitan Avenue.
A DOT representative was not at the meeting for the proposal, which went against the expectation of CB5 members.
July 2018 saw Kmart closing its doors for good; that was preceded by Toys “R” Us after the company filed bankruptcy in January. Now, the developers are seeking permission to modify the building for additional truck loading bays.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall