Woodside Wants Housing, But It’s Likely to Get More SUVs
12:01 AM EST on November 7, 2022
Just what Northern Boulevard needs — another car dealership.
Members of Queens Community Board 2 are calling for a moratorium on all future car-related development along the so-called "New Boulevard of Death" after yet another car dealership has been proposed for the strip — charging that the half-dozen or so dealerships only wreak havoc on a neighborhood that desperately needs more housing and fewer cars.
Queens Ford Lincoln wants to rezone a plot of land on Northern between 58th and 60th streets in Woodside where a former restaurant has sat vacant for more than six years. In its place, the car dealer wants to erect a two-story “boutique showroom” for Lincoln SUVs.
The roughly 52,000-square-foot trapezoidish site is currently zoned to allow a four-story apartment building, but the developer is asking the city to allow for a combination of both residential and commercial use in order to facilitate the construction of a dealership selling multi-ton four-wheelers that start at nearly $40,000. (The restaurant, built in the 1930s, predates the 1961 law that zoned the land as residential.)
Locals say they have had enough of the same — pollutant-spewing, gas-guzzling vehicles that dominate the corridor, turning it into an inhospitable and dangerous highway. Just a five-minute walk from the E, M, R trains at the Northern Boulevard station, the lot at 58-02 Northern Blvd. should be developed as affordable housing units with proper green space, advocates say.
“In the context of the housing crisis, I can't possibly support a project like this that is seeking to effectively downzone the allowable amount of units what could have been built on this block in order to produce a car showroom in a district that is flush with transit options, where many, many people take the train to work, and on a planet where climate change means that continue driving of cars and use of fossil fuels is detrimental to our planets continued health,” Emilia Decaudin, the area’s district leader, said at September's virtual community board meeting on the application.
During that Sept. 8 meeting, Community Board 2 narrowly passed a resolution (17 to 15 with one abstention) to not only reject the application outright, but also oppose all such developments along Northern Boulevard.
Council Member Julie Won, who represents the area, says she agrees with the community board's resolution.
Won, who has been opposing another controversial rezoning in a different part of her district — Innovation QNS in Astoria, which has pitting passionate housing advocates against one another — says the Northern Boulevard site should be reserved only for housing. She declined to say how she would vote should the application land on her desk in the next few months, but added that she wants both projects to be scratched, and for the city to instead propose a neighborhood rezoning that encompasses both Innovation QNS and the proposed site on Northern Boulevard.
“It should be a neighborhood rezoning instead of spot rezoning, especially as a major thruway, there is so much opportunity here and we need to make it safer and more liveable,” Won told Streetsblog, adding that contextual, neighborhood rezoning also means eliminating parking minimums citywide. “Not only do we want green bike lanes but also we have to build affordable housing. A neighborhood rezoning should have included both.”
The 58-02 Northern Blvd. rezoning application does not include any housing now, nor do the developers have any plans to in the future, though the rezoning would trigger the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for any future developments that included apartments, according to a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning. If the owner complied with the existing zoning on the site, no affordable housing would be required.
But locals say the neighborhood can't handle more car dealerships, especially in a district where more than half of its households do not own a car. The notoriously deadly street is already oversaturated with at least half a dozen — including one just across the street with a "Grand Opening" sign on its facade — that have proven their unwillingness to be good neighbors. They park the cars on the sidewalk, block fire hydrants, drive recklessly, and in one case, on 78th Street, Koeppel Mazda has refused to give up just a tiny portion of the road so that the city can finally make good on a years-in-the-making plan to transform the Jackson Heights street, fronting a school and a park, into a car-free plaza.
“We’ve had enough,” said Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas, who as a candidate in 2020 put forward a plan to transform Northern Boulevard into a 14th Street-style busway. "Utilize those spaces for affordable housing. These car dealerships have not been good neighbors. They’re refusing to give up a curb cut…not driving safely, I see them whip around, do dangerous turns."
It's not merely symbolic that locals oppose the dealership plan — cars already cause so much danger and injuries on Northern Boulevard.
On the short stretch between Broadway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, there have been 209 reported crashes on Northern since 2018, injuring 59 people, including six cyclists and seven pedestrians. Drivers of SUVs contributed to nearly half of those, according to Crash Mapper. And on the other side of the BQE, between 69th and 85th streets, there have been 525 reported crashes over the same time frame, killing one pedestrian — 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero in 2018 — and injuring 203 others, including 24 cyclists and 35 pedestrians, according to Crash Mapper. Of those, SUVs contributed to more than half, including the crash that killed Ampuero in a crosswalk.
“We simply don't need anymore of these oversized vehicles on our streets and should prioritize building more housing, which we desperately need, especially at sites like these, which are a five-minute walk from a subway station and on a street we’re actively working to make safe,” said Bobby Preti, a member of the community and social worker with Families for Safe Streets.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who is also now backing Innovation QNS, gave his approval for the 58-02 rezoning, which González-Rojas said was “very frustrating.”
But through a spokesperson, Richards defended his support, saying he trusts the applicant’s “willingness and commitment to working with the local community to ensure the project is a net positive for the surrounding area,” as well as efforts to “prioritize cycling and promote electric vehicle sales.” The spokesperson also noted Richards’s $1-million investment into safety improvements on Northern Boulevard this fiscal year.
And a representative for dealership told the community board that it would be respectful and not replicate the discourteous actions of other car dealerships on the boulevard. That's nice, but the company’s other location on Queens Boulevard in Jamaica features a sidewalk full of cars, CB2 member Laura Shepard said.
“They’ve got another business…full of sidewalk driving, parking on the sidewalk. It’s egregious,” she said, sending Streetsblog the picture below:
As part of the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the application is now at the City Planning Commission for analysis and a yes-or-no decision, before heading to the City Council, where the 51-person legislative body typically defers to the vote of the local member. In this case, Won.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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