The proposed redevelopment plan has been approved by Landmarks and has been modified slightly to comply with federal regulations, due to the site’s close proximity to LaGuardia Airport. On October 27, 2015, the Board of Standards and Appeals approved with conditions a request by Flushing Square, LLC., for a special permit to re-develop the RKO Keith’s Theatre, located at 135-35 Northern Boulevard in the downtown Flushing neighborhood of Queens, into a 16-story mixed use commercial and residential building with community facilities. The RKO Keith’s Theatre is a vacant building containing an interior landmark. The proposed development would exceed the height limitations established for the site’s area, which is a “designated flight obstruction” area due to its close proximity to LaGuardia Airport.
The Board originally granted a variance for the re-development on December 13, 2005, which permitted the construction of a 200-unit, 17-story mixed use building providing retail space on the ground floor, community facility space on the second floor, and 229 parking spaces in a three-level, underground parking garage. Since then, the site’s ownership has changed hands twice and the proposed redevelopment plans have been amended.
The Board held a public hearing on July 14, 2015, with follow-up hearings on August 25th and September 18th. At the July 14th hearing, Howard Goldman, of Goldman Harris LLC, testified that since he began to work on the project in 2003, the property has been owned by three different owners. He continued by noting that neither of the previous two owners completed any work on the project. According to Goldman, the zoning text which regulates the height limits in the geographic areas surrounding both airports in Queens has been superseded by the Federal Aeronautics Administration, yet it remains on the books. Further, he testified that the parking spaces provided in the proposal reflect the wishes of Queens Community Board 7, which found it most important that “there be one parking space per one apartment.”
Ian Bader, partner at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP, testified that his firm has been commissioned to work on the proposed redevelopment project due to the “presence of the remaining theatre lobbies,” which are interior landmarks. Bader testified that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has already approved the work proposed to be done on the theatre lobbies in 2005. Landmarks amended the original Certificate of Appropriateness twice, with the most recent expiration set for 2018. Bader also testified that the new proposal contains 86 more residential parking spaces and 55 less commercial and community parking spaces than required by the zoning text; in total, there are 31 more parking spaces than are required. He continued to explain that the parking garage’s levels have been reduced from three to one, which was “purely a technical matter in terms of using mechanized stackers and carousel parking.” Further, Bader testified that the new plan includes FAA-required “aviation warning lights and lightening protection rods,” and the FAA has approved the proposal’s raised height of the building.
The Board adopted a resolution approving the proposed redevelopment project on October 27, 2015, in which it conditioned its approval on several conditions relating to the FAA’s requirements. According to the Board’s decision, the FAA requirements are substantially similar to the requirements set forth in the Zoning Resolution. In accordance with this finding, the Board’s conditions require the proposed redevelopment to comply with the FAA’s building height limits—which take into consideration all of the building’s appurtenances—and require the building to include “obstruction marking and lighting,” which would ensure the building is visible to passing, low-flying planes. Further, the Board mandated the applicant to file a “Notice of Actual Construction or Alteration” with the FAA at least ten days before construction begins and within five days of the building’s construction reaching its greatest height.
By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2015)