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Protesters hold final rally over Flushing Commons

Opponents of the Flushing Commons project made one last call Saturday to the city to rethink the controversial development they claim will destroy surrounding small businesses.

Dozens of small business owners and community leaders gathered in the sweltering heat at Lippman Plaza in downtown Flushing, right where the $850 million, mixed-use project is slated to be constructed, to voice their concerns.

The development plan, scheduled to be voted on by the City Council this Thursday, would transform the Municipal Parking lot on Union Street into a new building that includes condominium spaces and commercial properties as well as a new YMCA.

Ikhwan Rim, who owns a jewelry store on Union Street and organized the rally, said the construction would increase congestion in downtown Flushing and deter customers from visiting and shopping in the area.

“We cannot survive,” he said. “The city has no plan for small businesses .... They say we are going to help, but [we] are not getting any.”

Rim and his fellow entrepreneurs have been protesting the plan for months, but their voices have not carried weight. The project, which is expected to begin sometime later in the year, has received approval from the borough president, the Department of City Planning and the Council Zoning and Franchise Committee.

Jo-Ann Yoo, who works for the nonprofit Asian Americans for Equality, said they do not want the Council to do the same. The organizer said that in addition to the parking, the construction would make the commercial area an eyesore and its negative image would spread to small businesses.

“We want to send a message,” Yoo said.

The developer has promised to build 1,600 private parking spaces, which is 500 more than the current lot, and the city Economic Development Corp. said it sees no problem in the plan.

“Based on a thorough analysis, we believe that the planned additional parking at Flushing Commons will certainly meet the local demand,” Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in a statement.

But protesters contend that is not enough.

Jim Gerson, the former chairman of the Flushing Business Improvement District and co-president of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development, said there is no guarantee the parking woes would be solved by the time the construction is over.

“This developer will continue to sell parking [spaces] between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard,” he said.

Community activist S.J. Jung urged the business owners to call their elected officials and tell them their concerns.

“We do not need anymore gridlock,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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