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The Civic Scene: Megastore issues still plague boro’s communities

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In Fresh Meadows the community just defeated a proposal to put a Pathmark box store in the low-density special residential neighborhood. In Rego Park the community is currently fighting another proposed large box store belonging to Wal-Mart. The zoning in the area is such that variances have to be obtained to build these gigantic stores.In Fresh Meadows the owners of the Fresh Meadows Development decided to let Pathmark take a small shopping strip, with a large parking lot and build a 55,000-square-foot box store, with parking for 177 cars on the roof. The problem was that the entire development was made a special preservation district 30 years ago when the then-owner wanted to tear down a magnificent stand of oak trees in an oval and build apartment houses. The people just fought to preserve their quality of life from a 24/7 box store.The proposed megastore was opposite PS 26. Parents and other community residents did not want 16-wheel delivery trucks plus garbage trucks traveling through their neighborhood 24 hours a day. The neighborhood groups created the Greater Fresh Meadows Community Coalition. They wrote about their concerns in their newsletters, sent out press releases, placed articles in the local newspapers, held meetings with legislators and held a rally.The groups involved were the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, The Civic Association of Utopia Estates, Fresh Meadows Tenants Association, Meadowlark Garden Owners, Hillcrest Estates Civic, Fresh Meadows Homeowners Association, Holliswood Civic Association and the Queens Civic Congress.Supporters of Pathmark argued that there was no grocery store in Fresh Meadows. Well, there had been one on 188th Street, but the Federal Realty Investment Trust from Maryland had terminated the Key Food's month-to-month lease to rent the property for an Eckerd Drug Store, probably for more money. The Pathmark would have paid a higher rent than the little neighborhood stores on the shopping strip opposite PS 26. The owners created the problem, then tried to take advantage of the problem. Yes, the profit motive makes this country tick, but quality of life is also important.Across the borough, Wal-Mart wants to build a 135,000-square-foot box store in a large parking lot in Rego Park. The Juniper Park Civic Association; state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who is president of the Central Labor Council; the United Food Commercial Workers of Region 1; and the Small Business Congress of New York City headed by Sung Soo Kim all oppose this proposed plan. The New York Metropolitan Retail Association contends that not all box stores are bad. The mayor says that business expansion is good.The arguments against the Wal-Mart store is that it would bring too much congestion into a community filled with apartment houses and other large food and consumer product stores. The Korean American Small Business Service Center of New York believes Wal-Mart style stores will put many of the 185,000 mom-and-pop stores in New York out of business. They argue that the money stays in the community when it is spent is small stores.Other critics maintain since Wal-Mart is non-union, it pays lower wages than other stores. McLaughlin and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who supported the Fresh Meadows community fighting the Pathmark, say that for every two jobs created by a Wal-Mart store, the community loses three jobs. Although Wal-Mart does have a health plan, it is so expensive for the low-wage workers that most do not take it. They go to municipal health facilities, thus causing the taxpayers to spend many millions for the workers' health care, the opponents say.McLaughlin made the argument that the company requires its suppliers to sell at a lower wholesale price so the goods can be sold in Wal-Mart's retail stores at a lower price. Manufacturers, that want to keep Wal-Mart as a customer then have to move their operations overseas to China or other low-wage countries and American workers lose jobs. This could be a problem for the United States because the loss of jobs or low-paying jobs means our workers will not have enough money to buy our products in the future. Lower wages here also means lower tax revenues for the municipalities.When a megastore has a monopoly in an area, it can raise prices so the consumer suffers. Most megastores have headquarters located out of state so the profits go to another state, leaving New York with less capital. In this city there is so little free land in the center of the boroughs that any big box store will cause car and truck congestion plus air and noise pollution, which are quality-of- life issues.The issue of megastores will be around for a while, but so will our quality of life and economic prosperity issues.Good and bad news of the weekOur firemen are brave and dedicated civil servants. Regretfully, two died and others were hurt, fighting a fire in a Bronx building with an illegal wall which obscured the extent of the fire and blocked their escape out of the fire escape. More people will die from fires in illegal apartments unless we can correct these illegal conversions. The Department of Buildings has few inspectors yet the fees for plans and selling buildings makes lots of money for the city. The city has to hire more well-paid inspectors, change the laws and court system so inspectors can more easily gain access to buildings, level a fine for every illegal activity and then collect it then and there, jail the offenders, and slow or stop the flow of illegal aliens into the country who will live anywhere and not complain because they are living outside the law.

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