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CB 6 gives nod to mixed-use complex

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The board's nod with a 29-5 vote, gives the developer, Vornado Realty, its first green light to move ahead with plans to build a mixed-use complex of commercial space and two apartment towers on a parking lot off Queens Boulevard as an expansion of the existing Rego Park Mall. The proposal had originally included what would have been the city's first Wal-Mart until widespread opposition caused Vornado to abandon its dealings with the mega-retailer.In its place, Century 21 will open a department store on the cite, which is bordered by the Horace Harding Expressway, 62nd Drive, Junction Boulevard and 97th Street, Vornado confirmed recently.The board's approval, however, was contingent on several conditions, including a significant reduction in commercial space, a guarantee that retail will never replace housing if any of the 450,000 square feet slated for residential dissipates, more parking to facilitate traffic and the promise that Vornado will continue its dialogue with CB 6, which covers Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens."We're going in on faith that if we say yes, that means they'll work with us," board member Claudia Valentino said at the May 4 meeting, referring to Vornado. But CB 6 Chairman Joseph Hennessy gave voice to what many had concluded. "Vote yes now so we can stay in the picture," he said. "Once we say no, we're out."The project manager for Vornado, Michael Berfield, also tried allaying some fears. "We understand this is the start of the process," he said. "But I think we have shown good faith so far." Berfield would not comment further on Vornado's reactions to the board's amendments.Board member Stanley Speirs, who drafted the board's resolution, reminded the crowd of a similar proposal at the same site for a 500,000-square-foot mall that was brought before the board in 1986. CB 6 voted down the idea and crafted an alternate more suitable plan. "Nothing we asked for was given serious consideration" and the project was eventually approved by the borough president and City Council, Speirs said. The development never materialized due to financial and logistical setbacks. "Vornado wants to work with us and so this in not the end and they know that and you are not removed from the process," assured Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), whose district covers the project site.Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz said a meeting on the issue was scheduled for Thursday with Borough President Helen Marshall, who is next in line to give approval.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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