Friday, August 27, 2010

Questions on Flushing Commons

As we have already commented, the disposition of the property that currently housed Muni Lot1, is subject to a vote of the Queens Borough Board-and there are a number of unanswered questions that CB #7 Chair Gene Kelty is still concerned about. Kelty is apparently still miffed that all 17 CB stipulations were disregarded by the community minded local council member, Peter Koo.

The Queens Chronicle has the story: "When Community Board 7 OK’d the massive $850 million Flushing Commons mixed-use development project in April, it was with several recommendations. Now with the plan fully approved, the board is trying to hold the city’s and the developer’s feet to the fire. “We wanted concessions and now is the time to work them out,” said CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty, “but we don’t want to be rushed into it.”

In our view, however, Kelty and the CB should have withheld any support for the project until some guarantees were elicited from the developer-instead of voting a lame, Yes, But. The same holds true for Queens BP Helen Marshall who saw her recommendations tossed into the nearest trash can by the city council. For his part, Kelty wants more time to negotiate: "Kelty was referring to a Queens Borough Board meeting set for Sept. 20, which has on its agenda a vote on the Flushing Commons business arrangements. The board consists of all 14 Queens City Council members, community board chairpersons and the borough president...He wants the meeting moved to October, giving his community board time to discuss the issues."

The BB has the absolute ability to kill the whole deal-although if it did so, we would be shocked. So,what exactly does the Board want to see added here? "Topics to be covered include the time frame of the project, interim parking during construction, the funding stream and stipulations if the developer fails to get full finances. “These are just some of the subjects that have to be addressed,” Kelty said. “We want to see the plans in writing.”

Fascinating. As we pointed out earlier this month about TDC and its head man:

"Now Mr. Myer, as clever and slippery a character as we have seen-full of false bonhomie- was asked repeatedly during the ULURP process about his organization's fiscal capabilities. And, according to those at the various hearings on the land use application, the ever shifty realtor did what he does best-he shucked and ducked. But that was land use-and now we are going to have to determine the procedures for disposing of the muni lot property-and questions of financial viability should be front and center.

In addition, there is the further potential that the developer will have its funding stream collapse in the middle of construction-after the parking structure is demolished-leaving only a Robert Moses style hole in the ground. Is the city protected in case of this eventuality? Even more so, are the Union Street and other Flushing merchants going to be indemnified-not by the city-but by the developer should this kind of parking disaster occur?"

Looks as if Kelty is picking up the ball that Flushing Coalition leader Jim Gerson has been running with-and to these we would add the issue of where are all the mass transit riders supposed to go. TDC's deceptive traffic consultants have suggested that 50% of the folks going to and from the development will use the local train and buses; but there is literally no room for these additional riders. Will TDC be forced to pay up for the upgrading of the 7 Line? They should.

As we have already remarked in regard to Willets Point, the cumulative impact of an additional 30 million square feet of development in and around Flushing is about to hit Queens like a ton of bricks-generating another 197,000 bus and subway trips; along with even more vehicles for the over crowded roads and highways. What's missing here is any outspoken awareness from the legion of local elected officials-raising the question of who exactly is looking out for the borough's residents.

On Flushing Commons itself, Board Chair Kelty is admirably trying to fill in for the vacuous Koo: "We also want to negotiate concessions,” Kelty added. “We asked that the old YMCA building become a public school and want the developer to put in a small movie theater in the project.” Those were some of the recommendations put forth with CB 7’s approval of the project, but since the board is only an advisory body, they are not legally binding. “Why should we approve the business arrangement otherwise?” Kelty asked. “We also want money put back in the community and to ensure that the merchants are helped.”

Koo, however, remains clueless-and is simply a beard for the developer: "But Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) is not so concerned about the Borough Board meeting. “We can work out the details later after construction begins,” Koo said. “I look forward to the construction because the sooner it starts, the sooner we can enjoy its use.” He called the Borough Board’s action a formality and noted there will be a community advisory committee set up to monitor the project."

Not to worry, Koo is saying, just trust me-but if the council member's betrayal of the local community is any indication, trust is the last commodity any one should be looking to obtain from this elected official. In the case of Flushing Commons, Kelty and Marshall better get the deal in writing.