Residents heading to court hoping to stop new Target from opening in Jackson Heights

By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech

The Jackson Heights and Elmhurst residents fighting against the construction of a Target at 40-31 82nd St. will have their day in court.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, along with community residents and members of the anti-gentrification group Queens Neighborhood United (QNU), will bring their case against the large chain store to the New York Supreme Court Jan. 10.

Residents argue that developers Sun-Equity Partners and Heskel Group violated local zoning regulations that only allow small-local businesses to be established in the area. They also claim that construction impedes access to Elmhurst Hospital and that Target will displace low- to middle-income residents.

“Those stores aren’t for us,” said Josselyn Atahualpa, a member of QNU about big-box stores.

Atahualpa was one the multiple members of QNU that gathered at Duningham Triangle Jan. 6 to hold what they called a “People’s Court” against Target and its developers. Community members and allies in opposition to the Target’s construction were given a few minutes with a megaphone to state why they believe Target would hurt the neighborhood.

Most of the speakers said the national chain store would likely displace local immigrant-run small businesses that provide many jobs for the neighborhood while also preventing new small businesses from opening up at the site or nearby.

According to press release from QNU, Target’s lease “excludes other businesses from opening in the same building, including supermarkets/groceries, laundromats, pharmacies, second-hand, beauty, cosmetics and convenience stores.”

Atahualpa introduced more than a dozen speakers as fellow QNU member Tania Mattos — playing the role of judge by donning a wig and robe — listened. No one present argued in favor of Target or the development in general.

After all had their say, Mattos reached a verdict: Target and the developers were “guilty of gentrification” and therefore needed to go.

Since 2017, protesters have been fighting against the expected Target. In September of 2018, a stop-work order was issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB) stating that the Target does not adhere to zoning codes. This came about a month after Target decided that the new store would be two stories. Originally it was meant to be 13 stories high. But the stop-work order was eventually lifted.

Presently, nearby residents say that they’re feeling the immediate impact of construction, as crews work to deepen the large hole on 82nd Street.

“I [recently] woke up with extreme anxiety from the noise and [the] floor shaking,” said neighboring resident Piya Patwwary.

Several community members present complained of their inability to rest because of construction. Elia Rubi, who lives across the street from the Target site on Baxter Avenue, said that traffic has already become horrible.

Now protestors feel that they need to take their fight is even more urgent than ever.

“The developers know that the more they build, the more likely the judge will rule in their favor because they can make the case that they’ve already invested a lot of money in the project,” said Paula Segal, Community Development Project attorney for the organization.

TimesLedger reached out to Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group for comment, but the firms declined when phoned Jan. 9.