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Plan for Flushing building catches officials off guard

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Ground is to be broken by March on a tall glass building to be used as a medical center and residential complex in downtown Flushing, according to a designer working on the project, but several elected officials said they had notheard of it until this week.

The Eastern Mirage project is on track to be built with the help of $17 million in tax-exempt stimulus bonds on three plots at 42-31 Union St. between Franklin and Sanford avenues, a fact that is drawing the ire of area politicians and experts who say they were not notified about the plans by city officials or the project’s developer, Flushing-based mortgage broker Fleet Financial Group, Inc.

“What a mess it’s going to be,” said Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, who first heard about the project Monday,referring to the anticipated reactions to news of the plans. “If it goes in as an as-of-right development, there’s nothing we can do.”

North Queens Medical Center is a proposed 80,000-square-foot commercial diagnosis and treatment facility that will occupy one portion of the site. The Eastern Mirage Tower portion is slated to have 62 market-rate apartments, 100 apartment hotel rooms, 200 underground parking spaces and nearly 20,000 square feet of community facility space for amenities such as a restaurant and pool, according to Fleet Financial documents.

Janel Patterson, a city Economic Development Corp.spokeswoman, said the residential tower will not benefit from the stimulus money.

The project is in its final approval stages, according to Xi Zersenstein, a project designer for an architecture consultant hired by Fleet.

“We’ve got Buildings Department approval. We’re still doing some minor adjustments to the final layout before doing foundation work,” Zersenstein said. “From what we have, the approval right now, we can start construction right now, we can start construction already. We just want to be more coordinated first before we start, but we’re thinking to start the project by March 2010.”

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) called the opaque nature of the process thus far “disgraceful” and said she did not know about the plans until Monday.

“I know we have secrets, but I don’t think this proposal should be a secret,” she said. “I have no idea who the North Queens Medical Center are.”

The project is controversial in large part because the developer is awaiting $17 million of triple tax-exempt bonds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The EDC’s Capital Resource Corp. will hold a public hearing on the bond issuance Dec. 9.

“It’s a private development, private health care facility, and meanwhile Flushing Hospital and New York Hospital Queens are both struggling for their lives to stay afloat,” said Paul Graziano, a Flushing planning and zoning consultant. “So where’s the $17 million for those?”

A Capital Resource Corp. document said the bonds are issued for “projects that promote community and economic development” and create jobs. Patterson said the project is expected to create 100 permanent positions and 250 construction jobs.

“The purpose of the bonds is to spur construction of projects that are otherwise stalled because of the economy, because of lack of financing and the economic conditions,” Patterson said.

Fleet Financial first filed a building application in January for a 20-story mixed-use building, according to city Department of Buildings records.

That proposal was turned down in June. Foundation work has been approved, but another application must be filed and approved before work can begin on a building, according to DOB spokeswoman Ryan Fitzgibbon.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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