QNU takes Target to “the people’s court”
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 09, 2019 | 1066 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On January 10, advocates will make their case in New York Supreme Court that construction on the Target on 82nd Street in Elmhurst should be halted.

Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU) will join State Senator Jessica Ramos and their attorneys to argue that the giant corporation doesn’t comply with the lot’s zoning, which is meant to serve local retail needs.

Last August, QNU challenged the Target’s zoning, and convinced the Department of Buildings (DOB) to issue a stop-work order. But in September, developers Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group revised their plans to comply with the zoning resolution, allowing DOB to remove the order.

Shrima Pandey, an organizer with QNU, said the organization filed an appeal with the Board of Standards and Appeals, but the board is so backed up that the case won’t be heard until March.

In the meantime, QNU members have been publicly documenting the building’s development. Pandey said they even got approval to continue construction on Saturdays.

“They know that the faster they build, the more likely their project will pass,” Pandey said. “We know that too, and we won’t allow that to happen.”

That’s why the anti-gentrification group filed a lawsuit to demand that the developers stop construction until the BSA hears their case.

Pandey argues the Target would hurt the community.

“I know that Target would displace the immigrant-run small businesses that provide essential jobs for our neighbors,” she said, “while also preventing new small businesses from opening up at the site.”

On Sunday, Pandey was among nearly a dozen speakers to testify at “the people’s court,” which QNU set up in Dunningham Triangle, across the street from the site. Tania Mattos, a QNU co-founder, served as the community judge.

Neighbors and community organizations spoke out against the project, Target and the developers. Jagpreet Singh, a community organizer with Chhaya Community Development Corporation (CDC), said his group opposed the initial rezoning deal because of the lack of affordable housing.

“We’ve seen what that does to communities like Jamaica, Astoria and Williamsburg,” he said. “Not only is it not accessible or affordable to our communities, it’s also causing further displacement and further harassment to the affordable housing around it.”

While the rezoning was ultimately defeated last July, led by QNU’s organizing efforts, Singh still criticized the community’s “exclusion” from decision-making processes on developments.

He cited Community Board 4’s non-binding vote against the development as an example of the lack of community impact.

Paula Segal, an attorney with the Community Development Project representing QNU, said when the developers bought the property, they thought they could rezone the lot. When their efforts failed, they came up with a different plan.

According to Segal, the developers will let Target build underground, and has convinced DOB that zoning “only applies above ground.” If they win, the attorney argued, it could have ramifications beyond this case.

“If they succeed in convincing the Department of Buildings that this is the way zoning works in New York City, then no residential neighborhood is safe from becoming an underground destination mall,” she said.

After hearing from all of the “plaintiffs,” Mattos, who lives just two blocks from the site, issued a judgment that the developer is “guilty of gentrification.”

“It is illegal for them to build here,” she said, “and our community will not take it.”
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