underground movement

City Board Okays Basement Space for New Target in Queens

A rendering of the proposed Target in Elmhurst, Queens.
A rendering of the proposed Target in Elmhurst, Queens. Graphic: Courtesy of Target

One of two new proposed Target stores in Queens got the go-ahead Tuesday from the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which ruled the cellar space the store will use shouldn’t count towards size restrictions.

Community organizers had challenged the project as violating zoning rules. But at its third hearing on the appeal, filed in October by the grassroots group Queens Neighborhoods United, the board voted 4 to 1 in favor of the development.

“We are in an administration that favors real estate and not communities,” said Tania Mattos, an organizer with Queens Neighborhoods United. “We will appeal and not stop fighting no matter what. We will not allow a Target in our community.”

The group’s attorney, Paula Segal, said it’s planning to file a petition in State Supreme Court.

Liz Hancock, a spokesperson for Target, said the company was “pleased by today’s ruling, and we continue to look forward to the opportunity to better serve the Jackson Heights community later next year.”

The 23,580-square-foot Target will occupy two floors — one below ground and one above — in a two-story building at 40-25 82nd St., which is currently under construction at the site of a former movie theater.

The four board members who voted in favor stated that cellar space did not need to be calculated in a building’s total floor area. They said the proposed Target therefore fit the zoning district’s permitted uses, which have a maximum retail space of 10,000 square feet.

‘Loophole to Skirt Zoning Rules’

But local elected officials said that the board’s decision sets a dangerous precedent to allow developers to exceed zoning limitations by taking advantage of cellar space.

An “incredibly disappointed” State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) said the board vote paves the way for “unregulated underground variety stores to be built in residential neighborhoods throughout the city, putting the safety of our communities and infrastructure at risk.”

The site where a new Target store is set to be built on 82nd Street in Elmhurst.
The site where a new Target store is set to be built on 82nd Street in Elmhurst. Photo: Christine Chung /THE CITY

Councilmember Francisco Moya, a Democrat whose district includes Elmhurst, said that the board’s interpretation of the zoning rules ignores the “spirit of the regulation.”

The use of basement space is a “loophole to skirt zoning rules” that he said he’ll seek to close, as chair of the Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

The Board of Standards and Appeals was established in 1916 to grant relief from the city’s zoning code where it may infringe on property owners’ constitutional rights. The board is composed of five commissioners appointed by the mayor to serve six-year terms.

Queens Neighborhoods United has been fighting to block the Target project for more than two years. It’s had some success: The project’s developers, the Heskel Group and Sun Equity Partners, withdrew initial plans for a 13-story mixed use building at the site following a rezoning denial.

The new Elmhurst Target, set to open next year, is one of two on tap for Queens.

The other proposed branch, scheduled to debut in Astoria in 2022, also has been the subject of  significant community opposition, amid concerns it will push out five active small businesses.

While an application for that property’s demolition permit is on file with the city Department of Buildings, the applicant has yet to schedule a pre-demolition inspection, a necessary step to secure approval.

The two reduced-size stores would join a full-size Target already in Elmhurst, at the Queens Place Mall on Queens Boulevard.

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