Queens Neighborhood United, an anti-gentrification group, is set to appeal what they call an “illegal” development in Elmhurst, Queens, that includes a Target. According to the organization, the new development violates the local zoning laws that prohibit construction of “big-box” department stores in the area.
Democratic nominees Catalina Cruz and Jessica Ramos joined residents of Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst, in supporting QNU outside the Board of Standard and Appeals on Thursday.
Ramos, a former city employee, said the development of “corporate giants” such as Target should be prohibited not just in Elmhurst but in Jackson Heights and Astoria too. She said big corporations often displace communities and small businesses in the neighborhood.
“I stand not just against this Target but against all of them because we know that there’s more coming up,” she said on Thursday.
QNU’s legal counsel, the Community Development Project, had initially submitted a zoning challenge to the NYC Department of Buildings on Aug. 10. The DOB had issued a stop work order in response, requiring the developer to submit new plans complying with land-use laws. QNU argues that within two weeks, DOB retracted its stop order when the developer submitted new plans, but the development still includes Target and does not address the underlying zoning issue.
QNU organizer Tanya Mattos read a letter Thursday sent by longtime resident Mei who owned and operated Mei Mei gift shop at 40-32 82nd Street where the new Target is set to open. Mei, who immigrated to the United States in 1980, used all her savings to build a business that recently closed.
“It was the second best thing that happened to me after my marriage,” the letter read.
Mei, now back in China, was forced to close the store after her landlord increased the rent from $7,000 to $10,000, citing the impending Target as a sign the neighborhood was taking a turn for the luxurious.
“It’s already affecting small businesses owned by immigrant communities. Street Vendors on 82nd Street are already being pressured by police to move. The property value for residents who live around the area are going up,” Mattos said.
QNU has been successful in stopping the development of a shopping mall near Corona Park as well as the expansion of the business improvement district on Roosevelt Avenue. The city has a long-standing strategy of issuing zoning requirements to restrict or prohibit the construction of giant retail stores or supermarkets to protect small business owners, Mattos said, but for some reason is not doing so in this case.
Mercedes Cano, 64, an immigration attorney who has lived in the neighborhood for 47 years, said that the development of Target is not in the best interests of the community.
“I am seeing what’s going on: The big companies are coming and then we are being excluded," Cano said. "We have businesses shutting on my block on 82nd Street right across where this big monster is coming. Bakeries are closing; 99 cent shops are disappearing.”