Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Mattones return to screw Elmhurst again
From the Queens Chronicle:
A former parking lot between the Queens Center mall and the Long Island Expressway has been empty for the past 12 years and now the developers who own it want to build three restaurants there.
The College Point-based Mattone Group presented its plan at an informational Newtown Civic Association meeting in Corona Tuesday night. The company would bring in an Olive Garden, a Longhorn Steakhouse and Joe’s Crab Shack, which will cover approximately 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, surrounded by free parking spaces. If the plan moves forward, they predict that the establishments will open in April or May 2014.
Most of the meeting focused on the civic association members’ parking and traffic congestion-related concerns, but Robert Valdes-Clausell, an officer of the Newtown Civic Association and a member of Community Board 4, brought up the property’s history and the developer’s history of shortchanging the surrounding community.
Valdes-Clausell also noted the meeting’s unusual timing, in the summer, when many community members are away.
“This has all the trappings of something that is not kosher,” he said of the new plan.
The city’s Economic Development Corp. sold the property, which was a city parking lot, to Mattone on Dec. 17, 2001 for $2.2 million. The City Council, including the area’s former Councilman John Sabini (D-Elmhurst), approved the deal, overriding the objections of CB 4 and disregarding the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
Mattone’s contract with EDC contained several restrictions. The developer was supposed to build a movie theater, which Loews would operate, within four and a half years and buy the dilapidated Elmwood Theater, and give the proceeds to Catholic Medical Services, which then operated St. John’s Hospital according to Valdes-Clausell. If those restrictions were not met, the EDC was entitled to buy back the property for $1.
The Mattone Group did not comply with the restrictions, but the EDC did not repossess the property. Loews declared bankruptcy shortly after, and Mattone never found a replacement as the movie-theater business was in decline. Therefore, Mattone never purchased the Elmwood Theater and Loews sold it to the Rock Church instead. St. John’s Hospital filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
On Feb. 6, 2013 Mattone signed a new contract with the EDC, in which the developer paid $3 million to modify the original deed from 2001, allowing it to build the restaurants on the property.
Mattone claims that they did not need to seek community approval because the proposed restaurants are in accordance with area zoning laws and that informing the community before beginning construction was merely a courtesy.
Valdes-Clausell accused Mattone of putting the cart before the horse, by making a new deal with EDC without informing or asking the community about it first.
Moreover, the $3 million in the recent contract went straight to the EDC, not the community.