Rep. Meeks assures Cambria Heights: Vacant Rite Aid will not become a shelter

Residents have pushed back against a possible transient shelter in place of the old Rite Aid at 222-14 Linden Blvd.
Photo courtesy of LoopNet

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-5) addressed residents’ concerns during a Queens Community Board 13 virtual meeting on Thursday, Apr. 29. He assured the Cambria Heights community that the vacant Rite Aid at 222-14 Linden Blvd. would not be converted into a shelter.

This announcement comes after weeks of active social media campaigns and a petition by local residents, who were reacting to rumors that the former pharmacy might be turned into a transient shelter in their bustling neighborhood.

Meeks took to the Zoom meeting with over 100 people to address many worried residents. “I wanted you to know that the elected officials of southeastern Queens, we have all been concerned and have had conversations about it. I wanted to come on to assure everyone in the community worried about having a shelter built on Linden Boulevard in Cambria Heights that it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Meeks noted that he had discussed the situation with Mayor Adams and received assurances that no shelter would be constructed at that location. Additionally, Meeks mentioned that Mayor Adams plans to attend a future meeting to engage directly with the community. He emphasized the importance of working together to decide the best use for the space.

Kevin Morris, Queens Borough Director for the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU), mentioned that his most recent communications with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the Department of Buildings (DOB) confirmed that they were unaware of any plans to convert the Rite Aid into a transient shelter. Morris also noted that he is actively working to obtain this confirmation in writing to reassure the community members.

The CB13 meeting comes on the heels of a petition to Council Member Nantasha Williams (D-27) to push back against the possible transient shelter. The petition details that the people of Cambria Heights “Say no to building a hotel in our community. We say yes to permanent affordable housing; transient housing is a firm no!” The petition was created on Apr. 28 and reached almost 2,000 signatures within two days.

Many residents took to the site’s comment section to express their reasons for petitioning. “Cambria Heights has always been a nice community. We don’t want our property value to go down. We want to keep our community and neighborhood safe,” wrote Dahiana B. Other commenters said they were tired of Black communities “being targeted as a dumping ground.” 

Concerns about a rumored shelter first surfaced during an Apr. 11 Cambria Heights Civic Association meeting. Residents also voiced their worries on Facebook following news of a property transaction in the area.

Recently, Liberty One Group acquired the retail property from RW Properties for $5 million. The 20,960-square-foot site includes parking for over 25 cars and is near major transportation routes.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) Public Portal provides additional details about the former Rite Aid site. Currently, there are no active work permits for the building. However, the documentation on the portal describes a filed application to convert the building into a transient lodging house, complete with sleeping accommodations and offices. The proposed conversion includes plans for eight sleeping rooms designed to accommodate 120 beds and additional office spaces. The zoning information further classifies the building’s intended use as a community facility with eight rooms.

On Apr. 3, Council Member Williams contacted Mayor Adams with a letter concerning the escalating rumors about a potential transient shelter at 222-14 Linden Blvd. Williams highlighted that Cambria Heights represents one of the remaining single-family residential communities in New York City. She voiced the homeowners’ concerns about the rapid change in their quality of life that could result from adopting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Town-Oriented Development (TODs). Williams emphasized that introducing a shelter would significantly alter the community’s character, particularly affecting the predominantly Black homeowner population, and could irrevocably change the community over the coming years.

Williams also noted that the southeastern Queens community, including areas represented by QB12 and QB13, has historically shouldered a significant portion of the city’s shelter crisis and is currently facing challenges from the new migrant crisis at several emergency facilities, such as the Creedmoor Campus. To address these issues, Williams proposed that the Adams administration co-host a town hall event with QB13, the Cambria Heights Civic Association and local government leaders to openly discuss the community’s concerns.