By Jorge Cabanillas, Queens life long resident and organizer with Queens Neighborhoods United.

On Tuesday, February 27th Community Board 4 reviewed an application for a spot Rezoning on 40-31 82nd street. The lot is located on 82nd street between Roosevelt Avenue and Ithaca Street at the site of the former Historic movie theater. Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group bought the site for $27 million dollars in a deal that was brokered by one of the 82nd Street Partnership Board of Directors. The developers stated that the application is only for 3 more floors than what they are currently allowed to build- 9-10 vs 13 floors. If approved, the developer will not only build a massive complex looming over the historically 2 floor commercial strip, but will also bring in a Target Express in its cellar. This will essentially flood our already high-priced neighborhood with market rate housing, add to the neighborhood overcrowding, contribute to the overburdening of our public Transit system and help drive the last stake through the small businesses on 82nd street and the surrounding area.

This proposal is a Trojan Horse. Conversations of affordable housing, jobs promised for the community and increased foot traffic are all Illusions and here is why:

Affordable Housing Illusion-

Let’s face it, the developers have applied for a spot rezoning with affordable housing in order to try and calm people down about the incoming Target and market rate housing. The developers have been keen in presenting this as an application for only a 3-floor height change, but the difference in units proposed pre and post rezoning is daunting. Their as of right proposal states 77 units of market rate housing, while their rezoning proposal states 147 units total. In other words, almost double the units and therefore double the profits. If the developer is successful in getting the spot rezoning, they are required to set aside approximately 25% of these units as affordable housing under a city policy known as “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.” But these units will not be affordable to most of us, as the typical family who will benefit is a family of two earning $61,120. If the housing was truly affordable it would need to reflect the neighborhood’s median household income which is currently $44,000-$45,000. When Community Board 4 asked the developer to consider bringing the affordable units closer to the neighborhood’s average household income, the developer stated that the bank would not finance his development if he went that low. In all, the “affordable housing” created would be unaffordable to most of the people who currently exist in the area. Further helping to continue a long history of geographic dispossession and assistance to the wealthy that will help displace us and replace us.

Overcrowding and Burden on the transit system-

The developers have stated that this development qualifies as Transit Oriented Development, urban planner talk for a more green oriented city landscape where you build denser close to public transit in order to incentivize the use of public transit. This would be beneficial if our NYC transit system as a whole was not already overburdened and one of the worst in the country and if you are from Queens, then you are familiar with the human cost of riding our beloved 7 train. The City Planning Commission has expressed similar concerns against the development and has also highlighted the narrow streets surrounding the complex which would create issues with congestion on roadways.

It is common practice in NYC for developers to ignore infrastructure problems, potentially get tax abatements (our dollars) and then leech off our public transit system to market their units.

It has to stop.

Even our new council member, Francisco Moya, has stated the following in regards to upzonings in South Corona (the neighborhood directly next to Elmhurst, where the proposed complex will potentially be built), “Zoning isn’t planning…There is no affordable housing coming to South Corona. We’re not building more schools. We have one of the most crowded school districts in the city of New York. There’s an infrastructure problem here as well”

Calle 82 Barrios Unidos 2

Lawyer Nora Martins, from Akerman, explaining the construction of the new building on 82nd Street to members of Community Board #4. Photo Javier Castaño

Target, Jobs and the destruction of small businesses-

Elias Heskel (CEO of Heskel Group), who will now be part of the 82nd Street Partnership, an organization that has been instrumental in the closing of small businesses, has stated that he wants to help extend the development of the North Side of 82nd street to the South Side. His first move- Kill small businesses by bringing in a Target Express. On average, when big box stores similar to Walmart open, they are responsible for closing 14-15 retail establishments within roughly a year of opening. Target, without even being built, has already made the move to secure this with its monopolistic lease. The company with help from the developer has made sure to ban any competitors from entering the same complex. Some of the banned competitors it highlights are supermarkets/ grocery stores, second-hand stores, laundromats, pharmacies, beauty and cosmetic stores and convenience stores (large or small). Target’s lease is a reflection of its monopolistic, union busting, anti-LGBTQ nature.

The Target alone will contribute to the loss of local employers and employees in a highly dense immigrant neighborhood. The destabilization of our neighborhood, as rent continues to swell and opportunities for work dwindle, will most certainly add pressure to this immigrant safe haven where many can find jobs and exist without having to enter the hostile main stream anti-immigrant environment we currently find ourselves in.

The Land Market-

This development as proposed with or without the rezoning will help eliminate many of us and our families from the neighborhood. One does not need to be an economist to see how large rezonings such as this one tend to make the land market in a neighborhood spike and therefore increase our rent. This is why neighborhoods all across the city have been mobilizing against them, with the most recent opposition hailing from 600 small business owners and residents in Inwood in Manhattan and activist, small businesses and residents in Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Rent has continued to steadily increase across all our neighborhoods in NYC without any major intervention. At the same time, our wages have reduced or remained stagnant pushing most of us here in Western Queens to use more than 50 percent of our income on rent. These dynamics make it ever more difficult for us and large immigrant communities like ours to exist in this so called “sanctuary city”.

But it does not have to be this way. If our elected officials don’t have the courage to intervene on the land market yet, then they can at minimum exercise the following-

  1. Council Member Francisco Moya has the ability to vote against the rezoning of this site. If he cares about the destruction of a majority immigrant neighborhood, then he should vote against the rezoning.
  2. Community Board 4, alongside Moya, can initiate a downzoning of the area and force the developer to build consciously and no higher than all its commercial strip neighbors- 2 floor commercial.
  3. They can also take notes from Target’s monopolistic lease and in a opposite but similar fashion make the effort to ban chain stores from developments like these in the area.

These actions are not radical and can be done by both Community Board 4 and our newly elected council member. Just like public officials who came together to ban a Walmart in NYC, the next step would be to ban Target Express from coming into neighborhoods with dense, vibrant and largely migrant small businesses like this one.

Community Board 4 will vote on this rezoning on March 13th at Elmhurst Hospital, Room A1-22 at 6:30pm. This voting night will be crucial as it is one of the only places where we can send a clear message of opposition to our community board and elected officials.

Come out and join us in defending our families, small businesses and all that we have built! People over profit, siempre.

Hearings 82nd Street mall

Audiencia por construcción de edificio en la calle 82. PARTICIPE

El comité de zonificación de la Junta Comunal #4 se reunió en el Queens Mall para evaluar la construcción de un edificio de más de 9 pisos en la calle 82 de Jackson Heights, en donde había un teatro y billares. La organización Barrios Unidos de Queens busca personas que testifiquen en una audiencia pública que se efectuará este martes 13 de marzo en el Hospital Elmhurst de Queens. Algunos activistas atacan este proyecto porque aumentará la congestión, desplazará a los pequeños negocios y excluirá a obreros y empleados del área. Sun Equity Partners y Heskel Group compraron el terreno en $27 millones y el edificio tendrá 3 pisos comerciales, estacionamiento para 128 autos, un centro comunitario y 120 apartamentos, de los cuales 36 serán “a bajo costo”.  Target tendrá una tienda de 27,000 pies cuadrados y ya firmó contrato por 15 años. El edificio está a media cuadra del Avenida Roosevelt y se completará en el 2020.