Tag Archives: Community Board 7

Board permits Willets Point mall in key vote


| mchan@queenscourier.com

willets4

Plans for a behemoth mall at Willets Point received a key nod from Community Board (CB) 7 after the city and the facility’s developer laid out a list of new commitments.

CB 7 granted a special permit to Sterling Equities and Related with a 22-18 advisory vote. The joint venture wants to move Citi Field parking to Willets Point in order to construct a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center at Willets West.

The board’s land use committee, including CB 7 Chair Gene Kelty, voted down the permit in a meeting last week.

But a pair of letters detailing a list of new promises by the developer and city swayed them at the last minute.

“I changed my vote tonight because I had papers in front of me that I felt comfortable with,” Kelty said.

“The other time, there was nothing. I was looking at a blank slate in front of me.”

In April, the committee told developers they needed more information about parking, traffic flow and transplanting the plethora of small business owners within the Iron Triangle.

The Queens Development Group and Deputy Mayor Robert Steel returned with pages of new promises, including a pledge to provide ongoing environmental remediation of all 23 acres of Willets Point land the city is acquiring from the current occupants.

The pair of letters also detailed commitments to conduct and fund traffic mitigation measures, build a 1,000-seat K-8 public school and give $1.87 million to the Willets Point Infrastructure and Traffic Mitigation Fund.

Developers also agreed to put $100,000 into the fund for every quarterly meeting with CB 7 that they miss.

“There was just a lot more that was brought into language in both these letters,” said Chuck Apelian, CB 7’s first vice chair and head of the land use committee. “That’s why I’m supporting this, and I think we’ve come a long way.”

The recommendation now goes to Borough President Helen Marshall, the Department of City Planning and then the City Council.

Ethan Goodman, a lawyer representing the developer, said there would not be another chance to clean up the long-neglected property.

“A vote against this plan is a vote against cleaning Willets Point,” he said. “We’re talking about 100 years of contamination. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Queens Development Group said in a statement the approval brings them “one step closer” to transforming the area into “a vibrant new neighborhood.”

However, dozens of local residents, including current Willets Point landowners, pleaded with the board to vote against the permit.

“We have jobs over there,” said Marco Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee. “I don’t know why you’d want to approve the project and kill all those businesses. We are workers over there.”

Joseph Ardizzone, the only person who lives in Willets Point, said democracy died with the board’s green light.

“Anyone that votes yes to taking my property denies me the right to be an American citizen,” Ardizzone said. “God bless America? I don’t think so anymore.”

Residents protested the delay of affordable housing during Community Board 7’s vote on Monday. (THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan)

 

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Community Board wants more answers on Willets Point project


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee told developers of Willets Point they need to return with more answers on the proposed project before the board makes a decision.

Committee members particularly want more information about parking, traffic flow and transplanting the plethora of small business owners within the Iron Triangle.

Chuck Apelian, first vice chair and committee head, told development and city representatives things had to be done about existing infrastructure around the area, especially roads and sewers.

The joint venture, between Sterling Equities and Related, needs to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) for a special permit to move Citi Field parking to Willets Point in order to construct a shopping center, dubbed “Willets West.”

Without the permit, the project could essentially not go through.

Since the massive shopping center next to Citi Field was added to the project, board members found a number of changes from the 2008 plan. To build Willets West, the Parks Department would amend its lease with Queens Ballpark Company, which would be mediated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

NYCEDC promised it would work to help retrain workers and relocate businesses on the 23 acres on now mostly city-owned land.

CB 7 chair Eugene Kelty had an issue with how NYCEDC was moving workers and the small businesses out of the area. Kelty said he needed more answers on the relocation, or he would vote against the plan.

“The money they make there, fixing those cars, feeds their families,” he told representatives.

Kelty said EDC told CB 7 five years ago that tenants would be relocated before the properties they rented were sold to the city.

But Thomas McKnight, an executive vice president for NYCEDC, now said the city cannot legally relocate renters without first buying the property from owners.

David Quart, senior vice president of development for NYCEDC, said the agency is working to help move tenant and partnering with The Cornerstone Group, a non-profit workplace training program, to re-educate workers.

CB 7 must give a recommendation on the permit application, followed by Borough President Helen Marshall. From there it goes to the Department of City Planning and then voted on by the City Council.

Should the joint venture make it through the ULURP, the developers can only go so far in development until new exit ramps are built for the Van Wyck Expressway.

The city has promised to foot the bill for the ramps, which would go up between 2021 and 2024 with an estimated $50 million cost at today’s rates. If the city does not hold up its end of the bargain, under any circumstance, affordable housing and other components of the plan will not go through, said Jesse Masyr, one of the lawyers representing the joint venture.

“If you’re asking what remedies we as a developer have if the city doesn’t build the ramps, the answer is none,” he said.

“We have confidence that the city will build the ramps. It’s part of the overall risk the joint venture is taking.”

CB 7’s Land Use Committee will meet with representatives next on Thursday, April 25.

 

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Board greenlights transient hotel in downtown Flushing


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo renderings courtesy of Fleet Financial Group

The developer of an 18-story building in downtown Flushing received a key nod to operate as a short-stay hotel.

Community Board 7 voted 30-8 to approve a variance with conditions that would allow developer Fleet Financial Group to function as a transient hotel over a residential one at 42-31 Union Street.

Guests are required to rent rooms for at least 30 days in resident hotels, but can stay for shorter times in standard, transient ones.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation gave developer Richard Xia approval to build a Westin Element extended-stay hotel with 161 rooms, as well as a nine-story medical facility. The building’s foundation is already 70 percent complete.

Xia, who purchased the property for $17 million, needs permission from both the community board and the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to stray from his original plans.

“I think Flushing needs something like this,” said Xia, the site’s sole owner and president of Fleet Financial Group.

“I’m pretty sure that by the time this building is done, it’s going to be something everybody likes. It’s going to provide a critical medical facility, which we need in this area.”

There would be about 40 suites inside the 44,000-square-foot North Queens Medical Center, according to Vincent Petraro, the zoning and land use attorney representing Xia. Nearly 200 jobs would be created.

“In the last few years, Queens has lost at least four hospitals,” Petraro said. “There is a need for medical space in this area and throughout Queens.”

Some of the conditions the community board voted on include having the developer provide 300 paid, public parking spaces and a guest shuttle from the hotel to Main Street. The hotel also cannot offer catering, a restaurant or liquor, the board said.

Xia is also seeking permission to build to 243 feet, which is the maximum height the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows. The FAA and Port Authority have already approved the height.

Both applications now go to the BSA, which has not yet scheduled a public hearing.

Neighbors of the site said construction has ruined their quality of life and caused the foundation of their century-old apartment building to crack.

They have an ongoing petition against the next-door tower with 32 signatures so far.

“Since the project started, everybody’s life is miserable,” said neighbor Erica Brassoi. “They’re destroying everybody’s life.”

Xia, who lives and works in Flushing, agreed to delay morning construction by 30 minutes. He also offered to pay for the demolition of a neighboring church, which is slated to undergo its own expansion project.

“I’m going to honor that in front of everyone in the community,” he said. “The noise won’t last forever.”

 

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Approved Willets Point plan to go through rigorous review


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Redevelopment of Willets Point will now go through a rigorous review process after its study was approved by the Department of City Planning (DCP).

The plan, approved by DCP on Monday, March 18, will first go to Community Board 7, which includes Willets Point, for an advisory vote. Borough President Helen Marshall will then get the plan for her own recommendation, followed by the City Council and DCP.

Between development at Willets Point and the addition of the shopping mall dubbed “Willets West,” the mixed use area will include housing, retail, hotels and an entertainment center.

Jesse Masyr, the project’s lawyer, said he’s confident the various levels of voters will jump on board with the plan, citing the environmental clean up that’s first on the project’s steps.

“It is a very, very significant effort and accomplishment,” he said, adding it would “reverse 50 years of unsuccessful attempts” to stop pollution in the area.

If the City Council ultimately rezones the area, the joint venture, between Related Companies and Sterling Equities, would begin by cleaning up the 23 acres commonly called the Iron Triangle. New York City has dedicated $100 million to removing spoiled soil and creating an infrastructure at Willets; the rest of the project is privately financed.

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has pushed for the project since updated plans were announced last June — much to the chagrin of some Willets Point business owners.

“This marks a critical step towards beginning the long-needed cleanup of toxic land in Willets Point that for years has damaged the waterfront and been a blight on the community,” a NYCEDC spokesperson said.

Opponents, however, are not confident in a fair process.

Michael Rikon, the lawyer for Willets Point United, said the city would probably approve the rezoning, and the seven-month approval process was merely a formality at this point.

This didn’t stop Rikon, however, from saying there were reasons why the project should be fought — including building Willets West on what is mapped as parkland.

“The whole thing and the whole process is a shame,” he said. “There could be 15 great reasons why there should be a condemnation on the plan.”

 

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Votes split on USTA expansion


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of USTA

The votes are in on the much-debated expansions to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and the results are mixed.

Half of the six voting Community Boards are in favor of the US Tennis Association (USTA) moving 0.68 acres out of its current property — so long as the organization meets certain conditions set by each board.

Board 6 voted 21-6 and Board 8 26-8 in favor on Wednesday, March 13; Communty Board 3 voted 33-1 against the next night. The six advisory decisions will now go to Borough President Helen Marshall, who has 60 days to decide on the expansions. Marshall’s decision then goes to the City Council and the City Planning Commission.

Marshall will hold a forum on the plan April 4 at Borough Hall. The Borough Board, led by Marshall, will vote on the plan April 8.

Two boards voted against the proposal last week, one of which could switch to yes if USTA meets nine regulations — similar to those set by other boards — including setting up a conservancy for the park. Community Board 7 voted yes, but with eight conditions, on March 11.

Each board has recommended USTA discount court prices for seniors and children, and invest in the park’s crumbling facilities.

“Community Board review was the first step in a multi-layered governmental review process that also includes the borough president, City Planning, City Council and State Legislature,” said Tennis Center Chief Operating Officer Danny Zausner. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue as we move through the different phases.”

Parkland advocates against the plan, however, say they’re going to continue informing residents of the downside of the plans. “I think the community boards’ vote will have no impact whatsoever on the BP’s vote or the City Council members,” said NYC Park Advocates president Geoffrey Croft. “They seem perfectly willing to give away additional parkland to this private business for concessions.”

 

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Local boards mixed on National Tennis Center expansion


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of USTA

BY TERENCE M. CULLEN AND MELISSA CHAN

Six community boards are lobbing back and forth on approving the proposed expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The boards surrounding the park are required to vote on the .68 acres lost in the U.S. Tennis Association’s (USTA) plan to expand in the park. Their recommendations, which are solely advisory, then go to the Borough President, the City Council and the Department of City Planning.

So far, two community boards have voted against the expansion, and one has opted in favor of it.

Community Board 9 voted 22-20 against the plan, with one abstention, after a lengthy debate at its March 13 meeting. Board member Alex Blenkinsopp said he thought many voted against it to send a message that parkland should not be given up for expansion.

“I believe the majority of Community Board 9 voted the way we did because we’re concerned about the future of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park,” he said. “This would have set a worrying precedent. That land, once surrendered, will never come back. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want the National Tennis Center to live within its current footprint.”

Community Board 4 also voted down the expansion. However, it said it would approve it if the USTA meets nine requests, according to District Manager Christian Cassagnol. Some of the resolutions call for better park security, a $15 million trust fund exclusively for the park, and a $500,000 per year maintenance fund that would be overseen by members of different community boards.

Community Board 7 voted 30-6 in favor of the expansion, but members also had nine conditions. The board asked the USTA to establish a $15 million capital endowment fund and an annual $300,000 expense fund for sole Flushing Meadows-Corona Park maintenance.

All damaged trees, they said, must also be replaced within the park, and there must be substantial discount programs for seniors and children living nearby.

Community Board 7 also insisted National Anthem tryouts should be held in Queens. The USTA must also work with the Department of Parks to clean and maintain the property and mitigate traffic concerns.

“The reason why we voted [yes with conditions] is because we found out that even if they didn’t want to take our conditions, they came back to the table to talk to us,” said Community Board 7 Chair Eugene Kelty. “They had a meeting in our office. They asked us if they could come in and explain what was happening after the fact. They didn’t have to, but they did.”

Community Boards 3, 6 and 8 were scheduled to vote after The Courier went to press.

 

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Tennis officials, opponents talk on proposed expansion to National Tennis Center


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

BY MELISSA CHAN & TERENCE M. CULLEN

While tennis reps continue lobbying for expansion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, residents from around the borough came out in full force against the proposal Monday, February 11 at Community Board 7’s monthly meeting.

“Our parks were developed for the use of the public. It’s where the citizens can gather with their families and their neighbors to enjoy the beauty of nature,” said John Kelly, a Flushing resident who lives by Kissena Park. “These people […] look at the green spaces and have desires to make a buck for themselves at our expense.”

Unites States Tennis Association (USTA) officials have proposed building a new stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The project includes moving a connector road from the park within the center’s leased land and several courts south in order to ease foot traffic. It would also take away .68 acres more parkland than what is in USTA’s updated 1993 lease.

Several local residents said the land grab would be a steal of taxpayer property and money. “There is no reason to be intimidated by the USTA,” said resident Ben Haber. “There is no justification for the USTA’s request other than they want to make more money.”

Haber said sports arenas do little to boost the city’s economy. The taking, he said, would be as “worthless as a dead tennis ball.”

The development would also add to the air and noise population that plagues the borough, residents said.

“All this overbuilding is an unnecessary and unacceptable takeaway from the Flushing community,” said Elizabeth Lee of Flushing. “We need parks, not more stadiums, not more malls.”

But USTA officials and union workers spoke to the benefits of the project at a recent Community Board 9 meeting. They said thousands of union construction jobs would be created and an additional 10,000 tennis fans a day would visit when the U.S. Open is in session.

Jack Leone, a union electrical worker, said he has done work regularly at the Tennis Center for the past eight years. “We live in a tough economy,” Leone said. “So I am grateful for the regular work I get at the [National Tennis Center], which has a long history of hiring local union workers.”

Ted Newkirk, a project manager for union plumbers and steamfitters, said further expansions and maintenance thereafter would continue to provide jobs. “The National Tennis Center has a long history of hiring local union workers,” he said.

 

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Flushing fighting colossal church


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Dozens of local leaders and incensed neighbors are striking down one Flushing church’s plan of building up to the heavens.

Senator Tony Avella led a protest on March 8, rallying against the building of a proposed “enormous and out-of-scale” religious facility at 145-15 33rd Avenue.

“You’d have a giant in the land of ordinary people,” said Tyler Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association and member of Community Board 7.

Officials said there is currently an application before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that could potentially allow developer — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to combine three vacant lots, building a site twice as large as is allowed by law. The proposed facility would be 23,097 square feet when only about 12,200 is allowed, officials said.

“This application is absurd and should not even be considered by the BSA,” Avella said.

The proposal was overwhelmingly opposed by Community Board 7, as well as Borough President Helen Marshall.

Still, if the application variance is granted by the BSA, a 50-foot tall chapel with a 94-foot steeple would be built in the low-density neighborhood predominantly comprised of single-family homes. Officials said the church would be 15 times the size of a single house on the street.

“The church is trying to build a monstrous facility in an area where it will be completely out of context with the rest of the neighborhood,” said Avella, adding that the church could appropriately build a facility of the proposed magnitude in Downtown Flushing — where zoning laws would not restrict it — or expand at its current location on Sanford Avenue.

“For a church to be this inconsiderate is beyond me. They’re not being a good neighbor by building here,” said Avella, who was chair of the zoning subcommittee when he said he fought to rezone the area to eliminate over-building.

The BSA has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the issue, although the proposal is slated to go before the board in April.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not return calls for comment.

“If this building receives its variances and is allowed to proceed, it will make a mockery of the community facility reforms that took place city wide in 2004 and will set a terrible precedent,” said lifelong area resident Paul Graziano, who also co-designed the North Flushing Rezoning. “Should this be passed by the BSA, suburban-like neighborhoods can expect outrageously large and out-of-context religious community facilities in the near future.”

CB7 rejects Mormon Church bid


| smosco@queenscourier.com

It’ll take a prayer.

The Mormon Church will have to re-examine its options after Community Board 7 (CB 7) unanimously rejected a request for zoning variances for a proposed church on 33rd Avenue in Flushing.

With 11 congregations in Queens, and one currently in Flushing, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proposed building a new structure that would include a worship area and community room on the ground floor, plus classrooms and office space on an upper level.

The Church needs three variances to build a 23,000-square-foot building on the land it owns at 145-15 33rd Avenue. A 12,000-square-foot structure is allowed there under current zoning. The plan also calls for a 94-foot steeple, which would end up being one of the tallest structures in Queens.

Officials at CB 7 said that this structure would not fit the character of the neighborhood and that the variances requested by the church go against zoning laws in Flushing.

Bishop John Wu, who leads the church’s worshippers on Sanford Avenue, said his congregation has outgrown its current location and expansion is sorely needed. However, CB 7 contends that the rejection is all about size — and he believes the church wants something that is too big for the mostly residential area.

“We looked at this application with a blind eye, and we determined that it did not meet the zoning laws,” said Tyler Cassell, a member of the zoning committee and the land use committee at CB 7. “Our fear is that if these variances are granted, it would be a precedent setting case and will open the door to other large community facilities to further invade our neighborhoods protected under the current zoning.”

Residents voiced their opposition to Borough President Helen Marshall during a public hearing Thursday, February 2. Marshall will make a recommendation within 30 days to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which has the final say.

Whitestone waterfront for sale, development


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of Massey Knakal Realty Services

House hunters searching for outer-borough bliss may soon find sanctuary on a scenic Whitestone cove, as 13 acres of waterfront property — the single largest building site in the borough — is now for sale.

The site, located at 151-45 6th Road, is currently overseen by real estate agent Stephen Preuss of Massey Knakal Realty Services. He is confident that sale price maximization will be possible over the next few months. Preuss alleges the property, which became available via short sale, has already been approved for the construction of 52 single-family homes by the City Planning Commission as well as the “proper community channels,” including Community Board 7.

“We shouldn’t have any problems picking up these plans and moving forward,” said Preuss.

According to Preuss, the land will most likely be purchased by a single developer rather than broken up into smaller plots, adding that the buyer may choose to build in phases as opposed to assembling the entire area at once.

Five of the 13 acres are submerged underwater, which, according to Preuss, the builder would most likely convert into a marina or boat slips.
“It’s one of the most desirable areas in the borough,” he said.

The average waterfront home in Whitestone sells for $2 million, according to Preuss.

State Senator Tony Avella supports the development so long as it adheres to the current plan of 52 single-family homes. Straying from this, Avella threatens, will meet “fierce opposition from the community and me.” As the land is currently an industrial site, Avella believes the addition of a well-thought-out housing complex will be an asset to the community, rather than a detriment.

“A lot of work was put into this plan which will match the character of the neighborhood and set a precedent for future development,” said Avella.

College Point spa issue is a steamer


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Local officials are not warming up to the idea of a luxury spa in College Point.

Community Board 7 voted overwhelmingly against the project, with 25 members against and only five in favor. Borough President Helen Marshall will now review the plan before it goes to the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals and a final decision is made.

“They usually take three weeks to digest the testimony and make a decision,” said spokesperson Dan Andrews.

According to Andrews, the building request was submitted by architect and engineer H. Irving Sigman of S&I Property Management, who presented the plans at a Land Use Hearing at the borough president’s office on Thursday, November 17.

The spa would be installed in a previously existing structure, and according to Andrews, would generate two-and-a-half times more tax revenue than is currently generated in College Point. The facility, to be located at 31st Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway, would potentially have amenities such as a rooftop pool, a yoga studio, a beauty salon and food store.

Andrews alleged that the main reason many board members opposed the spa was because of the rooftop pool, which would be open from 6 a.m. to midnight.

“We are currently making some revisions to our plans,” said Sigman. “There are some changes that are required in the design, and then we’ll submit those to a public hearing.”

Sigman alleged that there was concern among board members about the soil and the foundation surrounding the potential building site. According to Sigman, they felt that the ground was too weak to support such an endeavor. Sigman also alleged that the board was concerned about the credentials of the possible builder, Kwang Park, who is new to construction but has previous business experience. The board asked about Park’s background and a resume was presented at the meeting.

Sigman believes that the spa would be good for the area, boosting business and providing for the community.

“It’s available to everyone and it’s in good proximity to residential areas. We think it will attract a lot of customers,” said Sigman.

Within the next few weeks, the borough president and the community board will review the information and the fate of the luxury spa will be determined.