Fight Continues Over Planned Multiplex Theater In Elmhurst
BY LINDA WILSON
Friends and foes of an 18-screen movie theater proposed for an Elmhurst neighborhood clashed at land use hearings in Borough Hall last week. Opponents of the 4,200-seat multiplex located on the block bounded by 59th Avenue, 94th Street, 92nd Street and the northerly boundary line of a park strip adjacent to the Long Island Expressway, including Community Board 4 Chairman Richard Italiano and several board members, testified that the proposed complex would add to the already onerous traffic congestion in the area. They also maintained that the site, which currently holds a 302-space municipal parking lot, is public land and should be used for public purposes, rather than being sold to private developers.
Adherents of the plan, whose numbers included Lucy Schilero, president of COMET (Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together), Steve Trimboli, secretary of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, and other members of Community Board 4, agreed that the community does, indeed need schools, a new police precinct house, post office and library, but pointed out that sale of the city-owned municipal parking lot would generate the funds to pay for the public buildings needed. They also maintained that opponents of the project on the grounds that the area is the site of monumental traffic congestion already and that the bus traffic and double parking by parents picking up and dropping off children would add to the burden, rather than alleviate it.
The Mattone Group has proposed building the multiplex on the parking lot, which lies north of Queens Center Mall. Models and diagrams displayed at the hearings showed the complex entrance as slated to be located on 59th Avenue at ground level, with vehicular entrances, one also on 59th Avenue and the other on 92nd Street. Drivers will find their own spaces in the garage, which will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
The developer also requested special permits to modify height and setback requirements and the stipulated 20-foot rear yard and to permit variations in the location of signs along frontages adjacent to the complex without regard to regulations applicable near residential district boundaries. The Mattone Group also requested a permit for the parking garage which would entail floor space on two stories up to a height of 23 feet above curb level to be exempted from the city Zoning Resolution definition of floor area. The proposed multiplex is 65 feet high and would occupy most of the lot.
Paul Silver, special counsel to the Mattone Group, testified that the state-of-the-art complex, which would be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, would generate between 150 and 175 new jobs. "It complements the shopping center," he said. "It will be designed to coordinate with the streetscape and will blend in with the surrounding structures."
As for traffic congestion and related problems, Silver testified that the complex "is at a location where there is superior access to mass transit and it's within one block of three major traffic arteries." Traffic mitigation measures, Silver added, would entail widening and extending 92nd Street to Queens Boulevard and extending the sidewalk as well. He added, "There's no difference from the way the site is used today. In fact, the garage will be patrolled, which will be an improvement."
Leading the opposition, Italiano declared that he would believe traffic mitigation would take place when he saw such a development. "You can't drive or walk in that area because the traffic is so horrendous now," Board 4 member Miriam Levinson testified. "Traffic is a nightmare," added Angelina LaChappelle. "We can't absorb the impact of all the pollution."
Anthony Marino added, "Those in favor of this project say it will create jobs. Well, so will a new post office, a police precinct or a school. We need to look to the future of Elmhurst. We're being dumped on." Other opponents of the project testified that residents of nearby condominium and co-operative apartment complexes needed protection from pollution and traffic congestion. Charles Jordan, parent-Teacher Association president at two area schools and Community School Board 24 Parents Association president, declared that the need for educational facilities in the area is greater than the need for an entertainment complex, a sentiment with which Louisa Chan, secretary of School Board 24, agreed. "We're 5,500 seats short in District 24," she testified. "We need permanent solutions. Yes, our youth need jobs, but our children need schools first."
Those in favor of the project pointed out that jobs, whether minimum wage, part time or full-time salaried, would bring money into the community. "You have to pay for new schools, post offices, precinct houses and libraries. This project will bring in a quarter of a million dollars in real estate taxes," declared Joan D'Angelo, a free lance writer and 55-year resident of the community. Schilero pointed out that no commercial development has taken place in Elmhurst "for the past quarter-century. "As it is, the parking lot is a breeding ground for theft," she added. "With the new patrolled lot we won't need cops, so they can fight crime somewhere else."
"This is no place for schools," added Steve Trimboli, secretary of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and the Elmhurst Lions Club and executive director of the Elmhurst Economic Development Corporation. "If the traffic is as bad as you say it is, why put a school there to add to it? And high school kids love minimum wage, part-time jobs. They want to save for college. This project will give them more opportunities to start building their futures." Glenn Lloyd of Senior Regional Services support, added that according to Queens Business Weekly, the borough needs jobs.
As to the Elmwood Theater, which would be donated to St. John's Hospital as part of the deal and probably razed by that institution, Lloyd added: "St. John's might turn this into an extended care facility for seniors. I hope the community board members will have some place to go when they need such a place."