Photo by Mark Hallum
Activists against the proposal in March 2018.
By Mark Hallum

Developers at a site in Elmhurst may not be getting the zoning change they need for a 13-story housing complex and Target location if Community Board 4 and anti-gentrification groups have the final say.

The advisory board at Tuesday’s meeting voted against the variance to allow Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group to build an additional three floors on the proposal site and asked that the city accept their recommendation to downzone the area to further prevent the development from happening.

More than 30 public speakers, including political hopefuls, filled the roster at the March 13 meeting and sitting space in Elmhurst Hospital’s auditorium was exhausted with activists from Queens Neighborhoods United filling the periphery with signs calling to protect their neighborhood from gentrification.

“We all know that communities change, this is New York City, after all. But we do have a unique opportunity here to set the tone for future developments. We are a community in crisis constantly on the verge of deportation, eviction and unemployment,” said Jessica Ramos, claiming the outlet stores moving into the area along Roosevelt Avenue have been hard enough on small businesses. “I want to thank the developers for investing in our neighborhood. We can all agree an empty lot wouldn’t be a good look… [but] we’ve seen how the Gap and Banana Republic… have made it hard for mom-and-pop shops to remain afloat. The Target to be built would exacerbate this issue.”

Ramos is a Democratic candidate running against state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who recently has fallen out of favor with some constituents after defecting to the Independent Democratic Conference in early 2017. Many audience members expressed dissatisfaction that Peralta who was in Albany and other elected officials, namely Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), did not attend the meeting.

“We have four crises in this community. We have an affordability crisis, we have an income inequality crisis, we have an immigrant security crisis and we have a homeless crisis in this city,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congressional candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley. “This development hurts all of those things… These units are not affordable and we know that.”

Attorney Nora Martins, who represented Sun Equity, said under the current zoning the company would only be allowed to build up to 10 stories. But with the goal in mind for 90 rental units, attorneys for the developer were requesting permission from CB4 for a total of 13 floors.

About half the units, which have yet to be laid out in designs, would be studios rented at $1,375 per month, while two- and three-bedroom units would be suitable for families with an annual income of about $61,000.

The area median income of Elmhurst is at $44,000 per year, according to the attorney.

One resident during the public speaking portion of the meeting pointed out that nobody spoke in favor of the proposal while representatives from the developers were seen making snide remarks and gestures at the remarks being said.

The community board eventually voted nearly unanimously against the zoning change that would grant the extra building height with recommendation to lower the zoning to below the current height restriction.

Catalina Cruz, who also spoke at the Tuesday meeting, held a press conference earlier in the day calling on CB4 to vote against the proposal.

Cruz is a Democratic state Assembly candidate and attorney running in the special election for the seat vacated by Moya when he won the City Council seat left open by Julissa Ferreras-Copeland when she declined to run again.

“The proposed development for 40-31 82nd St. by Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group is reckless and unsafe,” Cruz said at the press conference. “Seeking a zoning change to bring a massive 13-story, 120-unit building into the heart of the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights community demonstrates a lack of understanding of our neighborhoods, its needs, and what makes them special. I urge Community Board 4 to reject this proposed rezoning.”

Cruz also served as Ferreras-Copeland’s chief-of-staff.

Many signs and remarks made at the CB4 meeting looked back reminiscently at the movie theater that used to occupy the space.

Jorge Cabanillas said his family moved to Elmhurst 30 years ago and while they have been driven from the neighborhood by rising prices, he remembered the movie theater as one of the few that offered Spanish subtitles, a place he could go with his parents who were not fluent in English.

(The updated version of this story clarifies that state Sen. Jose Peralta was in Albany at the time of the meeting.)

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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