‘Seriously consider our testimony’: Elmhurst Target development reaches BSA hearing

Activists rejoice as Community Board 4 votes against proposal for Target, housing structure in Elmhurst
Photo by Mark Hallum

After over a year of contentious debate from community boards to the state Supreme Court, the city Board of Standards and Appeals will now make a final decision on a Target Express under construction at 82nd Street in Elmhurst.

The BSA held its final public hearing on the matter, with Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU) arguing that the project violated the zoning laws, on May 21 in Manhattan. A decision will be released by the agency at a later date.

QNU claimed that public comment at the hearing became so heated that the agency eventually cut short the comment period and shut off cameras for a short time before threatening to arrest have activists arrested.

Video footage depicted police officers at the back of the hearing evaluating the situation.

“They union-bust a lot, we don’t want that in our community and already have a Target at Queens Circle,” one speaker said. “This corporation absolutely wants to take our money. That’s all they care about, whether we consume. They don’t care about our community.”

The zoning in at 40-31 82nd St. prohibits variety stores over 10,000 square feet. This is known as the “Special Limited Commercial District” adopted in 1969 and amended through 2016 to “protect public health, safety, general welfare and amenity.”

According to the city Department of Buildings, the building code gross floor area under the plans are 88,859 and a total zoning floor area of 38,201.

“Seriously consider our testimony,” another speaker said. “It is literally your job to listen to us and not the rich lawyers sitting here texting and playing solitaire.”

The development – not yet completed – already has a long and bitter history in the community.

What started as primarily a housing development, Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group filed for a ULURP application in early 2018 to expand the proposed structure from 10 stories – as of right under the zoning – to 13 stories.

Arrangements had already been made with Target to lease a space at the ground level.

QNU spoke out against the project at a Community Board 4 meeting in March 2018 where they claimed that not only was the housing provided not deep enough in affordability, but that the Target would drive mom and pop shops out of business. Other activists such as now-Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the opposition at full board meeting that saw a unanimous vote against allowing the full 13 stories to be built.

Although the affordability of the apartments slated in the original plan were suited for families making 61,000 per year, the average income for CB4 is $44,000 per year. The developers later dropped that affordability level down to accommodate more of the local residents and expanded the amount of below market units to 40 percent.

Although the project had a fair bit of support from Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Francisco Moya, the developers had withdrawn their ULURP application and opted instead for only a retail space in July.

In September, the city Department of Buildings issued a stop work order at the site after Equitable Neighborhoods Practice of the Community Development Project cited the zoning resolution to that prohibited department stores.

“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,” Paula Segal, an attorney with the organization, told TimesLedger at the time. “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.”

Finally in January, activists, along with State Senator Jessica Ramos took their fight to the state Supreme Court in attempt to uphold the stop work order until the BSA could come to a decision on the matter, but it was unsuccessful, according to the organization.

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