Representatives from the real estate investment company Kimco presented their plan to build The Kissena Center, a seven-story residential and commercial site along Kissena Boulevard.
Borough President Melinda Katz was not present at the land use hearing, but senior members of her team sat through the presentation and listened to testimonies.
Nicholas Brown, vice president of development for Kimco, said the New Hyde Park-based company owns and operates shopping centers nationally, and tends to hold their properties for the long term.
When Kimco acquired the site at 46-15 Kissena Boulevard in 2007, they recognized “significant flaws” operationally. But Brown said they haven’t been able to change anything because of existing leases with commercial tenants, until now.
“The time is now upon us to do something better at this site,” he said.
One of the biggest issues is traffic backup. With the way the 89-space parking lot is currently configured, Brown said, cars are pulling in and out of their spaces, pedestrians are navigating the sidewalk, and loading takes place, sometimes all at once.
Another problem is that Gold City Supermarket, the largest tenant on site, is set back near homes. Neighbors have long complained about loading, trash, noise, smells and other nuisances, Brown said.
Finally, the property itself has not seen a capital improvement in decades.
By building The Kissena Center, the area would benefit from job creation, including 250 to 300 prevailing-wage construction jobs during buildout, Brown said.
The project could also include a community facility space. Though Brown said they have not decided what it will be used for, some contenders include a recreational facility for students, a home for a nonprofit organization, or a senior center.
Another benefit would be 55 units of affordable housing. Brown said he saw that there were 84,000 applications for just 244 affordable units at the One Flushing project, and understood the need.
“This is a site that is ready, willing and able to provide that solution right now,” he said.
Finally, Brown committed to keeping a grocery store to replace Gold City Supermarket, as long as it is clean, fresh and offers a “better shopping experience.” There will also be retail space at the site.
Since Kimco presented its proposal to the community board and civic organizations two years ago, it has made some changes to appease the community, according to land use attorney Jodi Stein.
The company changed its rezoning request from an R7A to an R6A, reducing the number of stories from eight to seven.
Kimco also offered to set back the building eight feet, and lower the proposed unit count from 244 to 182. The number of affordable units also went down from 73 to 55 apartments.
The project increased the number of parking spots it would offer from 312 to 393, a 26 percent increase.
To address the traffic challenges, Stein said Kimco engaged with traffic consultants to come up with a new plan that would add turn lanes from Kissena Boulevard.
Brown said they will continue to explore other appropriate changes. He doesn’t expect the current proposal to be the final version.
“All ideas are on the table,” he said. “We don’t have a preconceived notion of what needs to be there. We’re here to listen.”
But the proposal received pushback from local civic organizations and Community Board 7, which oppose the project.
Chuck Apelian, first vice chair and the land use chair of CB7, said one of the stipulations of the board’s vote was that Kimco should eliminate the community facility portion because of the traffic it would create. Apelian said he was “disturbed” that the developer continues to consider it.
While he acknowledged that Kimco had come to them pre-development, the problems with the project, from its density to traffic, were too many to overcome.
“What really came at the end of the meeting and why we unanimously opposed was that the development was still too large,” Apelian said.
As for the traffic component, he said Kissena Boulevard remains the main north-south thoroughfare connecting the Long Island Expressway to Downtown Flushing. He said while their new traffic plan is supposed to alleviate congestion, it’s only “based on if you had the same count.”
“There’s no way Kissena is going to have a better situation,” he said.
Kathleen Kennedy, a board member of the Kissena Park Civic Association and whose family has owned their home in the area for five generations, accused Kimco of stating “bogus” benefits.
“There are no benefits for the local community,” she said.
She noted that the homeowners in the area don’t need jobs because “we already have jobs in order to afford our homes.” She said those jobs would go to “outsiders, not the local community.”
Similarly, area residents wouldn’t need low-cost housing because they already own their homes, Kennedy said.
She also took issue with the overcrowding the project would cause at local schools, which are already overcapacity.
“If the folks in this neighborhood wanted to live in an area like Downtown Flushing, we would move there,” Kennedy said. “But we want to live in a low-density neighborhood.”
Roland Wade, a member of the Holly Civic Association, also spoke against the project. He said he thought the “lines were drawn” between high-density and low-density housing at 45th Avenue over 20 years ago.
Anything north of 45th Avenue would be subject to larger developments, but south of 45th Avenue was meant for low density, he said.
“It is a nice proposal, but it’s in the wrong place,” Wade said. “We just have a lot of congestion going on in this area. Keep it north of 45th.”
Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant retained by the civic groups, submitted written testimony to the borough president pointing out some of the inconsistencies with the developer’s rezoning documentation and renderings.
“The EAS document has glaring errors, omissions and inconsistencies describing the basic impacts that this proposed rezoning would have on the immediate and surrounding community,” Graziano wrote in his testimony.
He added that the rezoning would expand the high-density development of the Downtown Flushing area into the suburban neighborhoods near Kissena Park.
“This would set a major precedent of inappropriate densification of low-density residential areas throughout the city,” Graziano wrote, “resulting in deep negative impacts on neighborhoods without the appropriate infrastructure or capacity to deal with them.”
However, The Kissena Center also found some supporters at the hearing. Brendan Leavy from the Queens Chamber of Commerce testified in support of Kimco, which is a member of the chamber.
He spoke about the need to encourage investment in the borough.
“We support the underlying principles of this rezoning,” Leavy said, “which will allow for the revitalization of an outdated retail complex, create modern spaces for Queens retail businesses to operate from, add substantial parking and provide construction jobs.”
Local resident Yong Wang also supports the project. He acknowledged that there may be short-term pain and congestion, but he ultimately believes it will benefit the community.
“People who say, ‘we already have jobs,’ that’s kind of a selfish mind, in my opinion,” Wang said.