Emotions are mixed on the final plans for the $850 million Flushing Commons mixed-use development project, which many community members say does not provide enough benefit for downtown Flushing.
The project will be markedly different from the proposal former Deputy Mayor for Development Dan Doctoroff and former Councilman John Liu agreed on in a letter signed in 2005.
Liu said in that agreement that he would not support any project with less than 2,000 parking spaces and with parking rates that are not capped at a reasonable rate into perpetuity. Both stipulations were not included in the final plan.
The discrepancies between that proposal and the one approved by the Council caused Liu, who now serves as the city comptroller, to withdraw his support for the project several months after the letter was signed and publicly lambast the project at least as recently as April of this year.
Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty said he was unhappy with the number of outstanding concerns that were not addressed and its lack of benefit for Flushing residents.
“We don’t think there were much concessions given to us. We talked about a movie theater, a school and none of that was ever addressed. There are still traffic concerns and parking concerns,” he said. “These things have to be addressed, and they have to give something back to the Flushing people.”
Michael Myer, president of the project’s developer, TDC Development, disagreed, saying he thought the project will be a great benefit to the community. He pointed out that many doubted his company’s Queens Crossing project before it was built and that it has since been a success.
“I think the right balance was struck. The city basically ponied up and enhanced the support for the merchants and, you know, we chipped in with making some parking available at Queens Crossing during construction,” he said. “It’s a huge win for the community and it’s going to be a huge catalyst for transformation.”
In the final run-up to the project’s approval by the Council, Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and other legislators were able to secure some concessions from the city and the project’s developer, TDC Development.
What was originally proposed as a $2 million assistance program to help area businesses was tripled to $6 million in the face of vociferous lobbying on the part of local merchants, who believed they would not be able to make it through three years of work without help.
Parking rates were also capped until three years after the project’s construction concludes, which project supporters say will ease the transition for area drivers.
Liu declined to say whether or not he would have voted for the project as it was approved last month, but he did indicate that the concessions were a help.
“They were in the right direction,” he said.
Sunny Hahn, spokeswoman for the Union Street Small Business Association and the Korean American Association of Queens, went further, saying Union Street merchants — almost all of whom are of Korean descent — need parking on the east side of Main Street during construction if they are to make it through the work period. They need parking, not business assistance funding, she said.
She proposed that the existing YMCA parking lot be used during the work as a valet site for Union Street merchants during construction.
“As long as they have alternative parking, they don’t even need the money. All of the alternative parking was arranged for the western side of Main Street,” she said. “Not one single alternative parking facility during construction has been set up for Union Street merchants. After construction is fair game, everyone can compete. But during those three years of construction, we need at least one parking facility for our merchants.”
James McClelland, a spokesman for Koo, said the process to help the merchants is ongoing.
“The small business plan is just one aspect of what will hopefully be a multi-phase improvement of the Union Street area,” he said.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn
©2010 Community News Group
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