Mall expansion approved

Mall to expand at Rego Park site once considered by Wal-Mart. On September 15, 2005, the City Council approved a text amendment, special permit and modification of a restrictive declaration to allow the expansion of the Rego Park Mall in Rego Park, Queens. Alexander’s Inc., the applicant, and Vornado Realty Trust, the developer, proposed a 1.8 million-square-foot project consisting of a 600,000-square-foot four-story mall with 1,416 parking spaces at the base and two residential towers totaling 600,000 sq.ft. with 450 apartment units rising above the base structure. Retailer Century 21 will occupy 122,000 sq.ft.

The 277,000-square-foot project site, currently used as a surface parking lot, is bounded by the Long Island Expressway, Junction Boulevard, 62nd Drive and 97th Street. The site had been the subject of several unbuilt development proposals, including one in 1976 and one in 1986. The special permits required for the proposed project allow the developer to modify height and setback requirements for the residential towers; reduce the number of accessory off-street parking spaces; modify signage; and construct a two-level vehicular and pedestrian bridge across 62nd Drive connecting the existing mall parking garage with the new one.

At the September 7, 2005 hearing before the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Michael Berfield, project manager for Vornado, called the proposal “a landmark project” for Queens. The architect for the project, Stanton Eckstut, testified that the project’s design was uniquely tailored to Queens’ residential communities and would create a new public space.

Council Member Melinda Katz stated that Vornado was the same developer that agreed to end discussions with Wal-Mart and worked with the community and the MTA in putting together the proposal. She questioned the developer about three outstanding issues raised by the Community Board: the inclusion of a supermarket; the increase in community facility space; and a commitment to develop the residential space concurrently with the mall expansion. In response, Berfield stated that Vornado is currently in discussions with several retail chains to secure a supermarket and that it is committed to devoting 2,500 sq.ft. to community facility use. Although Berfield would not provide a firm date for completion of the residential portion, he stated that its foundation would be set during the first phase of construction. Council Member Katz responded that if Vornado fails to proceed with the residential portion, it may have to come back to Council.

The Subcommittee referred the application to the Land Use Committee, which approved on September, 8, 2005. The full Council approved on September 15, 2005.

ULURP Process: The Planning Commission, as lead agency, issued a draft environmental impact statement on February 25, 2005, and a final environmental impact statement and notice of completion on July 15, 2005.

Community Board 6 approved, recommending that Vornado reduce the retail portion, guarantee a completion date for the housing units, finance improvements to the 63rd Drive/Rego Park subway station, use security guards in the mall’s interior passageway and be prohibited from converting the proposed residential space to nonresidential use except for a public school. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall approved with similar conditions.

At the Commission’s hearing on June 8, 2005, a representative of the Rego Park Sustainable Communities Coalition argued that the proposed project did not adequately address the needs of the area residents and expressed concerns about traffic and the height of the residential towers. The Commission approved the application on July 27, 2005, with Commissioner Angela R. Cavaluzzi recusing herself.

Council: Rego Park Mall Expansion (September 15, 2005); CPC: Rego Park Mall (N 040541 ZRQ – text amendment); (C 040542 ZSQ – special permit for parking, height, signage); (M 860562(A) ZSQ – modification of restrictive declaration) (July 27, 2005) (Gary R. Tarnoff, Samuel H. Lindenbaum, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, for Vornado). CITYADMIN

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