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CB 7 approves Commons plan with conditions

Community Board 7 took up Flushing Commons, an $800 million mixed-use development project planned in downtown Flushing, for the last time Monday evening and voted to conditionally recommend it to the Queens Borough Board.

The project was approved July 29 by the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then headed back to CB 7, which had one final chance to weigh in on the project. CB 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty will take the board’s recommendation to the Borough Board, a body made up of Borough President Helen Marshall, all Queens City Council members and the chairs of all Queens community boards.

CB 7’s Land Use Committee voted Sept. 7 to recommend the Borough Board vote “no” on the transfer of the land where it will be built from the city Economic Development Corp. to the project’s developer, TDC Development. Committee members were upset that the city and developer did not consider some of their concerns about the project.

But last-minute negotiations between CB 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian, the city and the developer led to some new solutions which Kelty insisted rendered the committee’s recommendation obsolete. Since time was running out to make a decision, he suggested an amendment to the recommendation.

The negotiations secured a commitment by the developer to be “100 percent on board and willing to continue working with the community board, business groups and residents” to address remaining concerns they have, according to Apelian. In the week after the Land Use hearing, CB 7 also received other assurances, including ones from city agencies pledging that parking issues with Municipal Lot 2 and police vehicles would be addressed.

Apelian said the two main things the board asked for which were never addressed were disappointing but not “deal-breakers:” the need for the YMCA to provide more community-oriented programming and services and the construction of a movie theater — which was not included in the final plan for the project, which will be built between 37th and 39th avenues between 138th and Union streets.

James McClelland, a spokesman for City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing), also said he is committed to addressing the remaining issues by bringing a new school or new schools to Flushing in order to accommodate the growing population.

“I know some of you are disappointed right now that you didn’t get everything you want with Flushing Commons, but it’s not a fait accompli, and we’ll continue working to get major capital improvements for the community,” McClelland told the board.

CB 7 board members Joe Sweeney and Arnold Wagner argued that the board should accept the Land Use Committee’s recommendation because they believed the city and developer are not bound to honor their agreements and that they have leeway to back out of them, leaving area residents with the short end of the stick.

“What concerns me is this project is like Swiss cheese right now,” Sweeney said. “I don’t know if I can vote ‘yes’ on this because it’s very ambiguous.”

Kelty contended it is better to be able to suggest changes than to reject the project outright.

In the end, the board passed the amendment and voted 27-4 with one abstention for CB 7 to recommend the project, with stipulations that the agreements be honored, to the Borough Board at its Sept. 20 meeting.

“This is the last stop on the train,” Apelian said. “There’s no going back.”

CB 7 also voted unanimously Monday night to approve a proposal by the Macedonia AME Church in Flushing to install a sign in June 2011 at the intersection of 38th Avenue and Union Street designating the corner “Macedonia AME Church Way.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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