Large mixed-use project in Flushing debated

A 620-unit complex and neighboring 140-unit affordable housing project would replace a 5.5-acre municipal parking lot. On May 12, 2010, the City Planning Commission heard testimony on the Rockefeller Group Development Corporation and TDC Development Corporation’s joint proposal to build a 1.89 million sq.ft. mixed-use project in downtown Flushing, Queens. The City Economic Development Corporation selected the proposal, known as Flushing Commons, through a formal RFP process. It would replace a 5.5-acre, 1,101-space municipal parking lot bounded by 37th and 39th Avenues and Union and 138th Streets. A mid-block lot on the Union Street side of the parking lot is occupied by the Macedonia AME Church.

Rockefeller and TDC would replace the lot with five buildings along the site’s perimeter, with 1.5 acres of open space in the middle. The project would provide 620 units of market rate housing, more than 500,000 sq.ft. of commercial space, a new YMCA facility, and a 1,600-space underground public parking garage. The developers submitted multiple applications, including requests to transfer ownership of the City-owned lot, to rezone the site from C4-3 to C4-4, and for special permits to modify height and setback regulations.

The Commission simultaneously heard testimony on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s separate but related application to allow the Macedonia AME Church to build a fourteen-story, affordable housing project on a portion of the parking lot not set aside for the Flushing Commons proposal. The church’s project, known as Macedonia Plaza, would include 140 affordable housing units and ground-floor retail and community facility uses.

At the hearing, residents and business groups speaking in opposition expressed concern about how the proposal’s construction would impact local businesses, and requested that Flushing Commons provide affordable housing. Richard Lee, of Asian Americans for Equality, said there were not enough protections for small businesses that rely on the parking lot and asked the City to conduct an economic impact study on the project’s effect on businesses in the development zone’s periphery. Lee said Flushing Commons should also provide a twenty percent affordable housing component.

James Gerson, chair of the Flushing Business Improvement District, claimed that the proposal’s parking component was insufficient. According to Gerson, the City was not honoring a 2006 agreement reached between Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff and Council Member John Liu that committed the City to ensuring that any proposal would include 2,000 parking spaces and cap parking rates at a below-market rate in perpetuity. Besides offering less than 2,000 spaces, Gerson said that the proposal’s parking-rate cap would only last five years. He claimed that the cost of the new parking, and the lack of overall parking, would hurt local businesses.

Paul Graziano, the spokesperson for a coalition of civic groups, said the coalition opposed the proposal based on a host of issues, including the lack of public parking, the project’s overall density, and the effect that construction would have on existing businesses. Graziano also noted that the current proposal deviated from the original plan endorsed in the City’s 2006 agreement.

The Commission has until July 6, 2010 to vote on the plan.

CPC: Hearing on Flushing Commons (C 100206 PPQ – dispo. of City prop.); (C 100207 ZMQ – rezoning); (C 100208 ZSQ – spec. perm.) (Architect: Perkins Eastman Architects PC); Hearing on Macedonia Plaza (C 100216 HAQ – UDAAP) (May 12, 2010).

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