Cruz, Ramos, Ocasio-Cortez Attend Tense Community Board Meeting on Rezoning


Over 100 people went to a Community Board 4 meeting at Elmhurst Hospital yesterday that was filled with applause, boos, and heated discussion over $27 million mixed-use building called “The Shoppes at 82nd Street.”

The project, first announced in late 2016, would replace a closed movie theater between Roosevelt Avenue and Baxter Avenue, about a block from the hospital, in Jackson Heights. The 160,000 square-foot building includes space for chain stores, 120 units of housing, and a parking garage. One store, Target, announced a new store on the project’s ground floor that it plans to open in 2019. (Full disclosure: The author is a former Target employee).

Representatives of the developers behind the idea, including Sun Equity Partnership and Heskel Group, delivered a presentation about the project in front of a skeptical audience. No one applauded after they concluded.

What followed next was a series of speakers who spoke against the proposal and requested that the Community Board not recommend the idea. Not one person spoke in favor of the project.

Catalina Cruz, a Democratic candidate for the 39th Assembly District seat this September, spoke first and signaled her opposition to the project. She told Community Board members that traffic is a main concern using emergency vehicles traveling to the hospital as one example.

Catalina Cruz, candidate for the 39th Assembly District Seat

“In its current form, this proposal will negatively impact small businesses, become a magnet for traffic, [and], most importantly, it would jeopardize lives,” she said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-Sunnyside, Astoria, College Point, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, Woodside, The Bronx), said there were several crises in the community, including affordability and homelessness. She rejected the idea that affordable housing could exist with the project and felt it was a risk for neighborhoods.

In addition, Ocasio-Cortez highlighted the lack of elected officials that she added represented that the power of the real estate industry in the city.

“Look at how packed this is and not a single elected official,” she said. “That is wrong.”

State Senator Jose Peralta

While no representatives attended the hearing, State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside) and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sent staff members to the meeting.

Emely Paez, representing Peralta, delivered the state senator’s opposing remarks and questions to the development. She elaborated on Peralta’s concerns that included increased traffic, its effect on local businesses, and residential housing.

“Although the developers have been permitted to build a nine-story structure, it was very alarming to find out Sun Equity Partners wants to expand its original plan and build four additional floors. This proposal will be destructive to the local, small businesses,” Paez said.

Jessica Ramos, a Democrat running against Peralta, underlined how important it was to protect local businesses using the 82nd Street Business Improvement District as an example. She elaborated that chains such as Banana Republic and Gap Factory Store hurt the sales of neighborhood shops. She felt the same could occur if Target enters the community.

“When you bring in corporations that pay low wages and can’t allow for workers to live in the neighborhood, that’s gentrification,” she said.

Ramos suggested that the Community Board reject the proposal and invited developers to talk with her and other residents to improve the plan’s inclusivity.

Other members of the community also expressed their displeasure with the agreement, echoing the same sentiments as other candidates in the room. Lucy Block, an urban planner herself, felt skeptical of what the developers offered and noted developers would benefit from the rezoning themselves.

“I think that ‘benefits to the community’ is totally negligible,” she said. “In fact, it would be nothing.”

After two hours of testimony and the usual agenda, board members voted against the application and recommended to downzone the project.