Sept. 9, 2022 By Christian Murray and Czarinna Andres
Community Board 2 voted Thursday to reject a rezoning application filed by the owners of an auto dealership who seek to convert a dilapidated site on Northern Boulevard into a Lincoln showroom.
The reason for the rejection was not that the proposed building would be too large or that the planned use of the 58-02 Northern Blvd would be out of character—but because the application was for an auto dealership.
The board made clear that it opposed the auto industry from being on Northern Boulevard—and that it does not want dealerships or any other auto-related businesses to open on the stretch.
Laura Shepard, a board member who is the Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, put forward the motion to reject the application that was approved by the board by 17 for and 15 against, with one abstention.
The motion read, in part: “Community Board 2 opposes the development of any auto related industry along the Northern Boulevard corridor.”
The applicants, who own a Lincoln dealership in Jamaica, told the board prior to the vote that the site is currently occupied by a one-story vacant restaurant building and that they want to turn it into a showroom.
A new restaurant, they said, would not be permitted to take over the space since it would now be deemed a non-conforming zoning use.
The site is currently zoned for low-density housing (R5), and the applicants are calling for the site to be rezoned R6B/C2-2 district. The change would permit medium-density residential housing as well as commercial uses such as the showroom.
The proposed Lincoln dealership would be a 2-story building, with the main showroom on the first floor and accessory office space on the second floor. Vehicles would be stored in the cellar, accessed via a car elevator. The showroom would not contain any repair services, or delivery staging areas.
But the dealership owners, Michael Naclerio and Joseph Vultaggio, received a cool reception from several board members at the meeting Thursday, especially once it was made clear that Lincoln would use the showroom to sell SUVs.
Shepard, in particular, asked the owners a number of hard-hitting questions:
“Are you aware that when children are hit by SUVs they are eight times more likely to die than when they are hit by a sedan?”
“Are you aware that 11 of the 14 children under 17 killed in New York City this year were killed by SUV, pickup and van drivers?”
Shepard also criticized the owners about their Jamaica location, claiming that they parked their vehicles on the sidewalk. She noted that illegal parking was the number one 311 complaint in community board 2.
Additionally, Shepard said that an elementary school is located a block away from the proposed showroom.
Vultaggio said that he has children and understood the concerns. He also noted that Lincoln had moved away from selling sedans and that SUVs were now the products being sold.
The applicants were also told that the district had a greater need for housing than automobiles.
The rezoning application if approved would permit the owners—if desired– to construct a residential building as large as 5 stories, which would consist of about 10 dwelling units. At least two of the units, however, would have to be set aside for affordable housing.
Under the current R5 zoning the building could be as high as 3 stories with fewer units.
Frank St. Jacques, a land use attorney for the applicants, said he was doubtful that it would be economically feasible to build housing at the site.
Furthermore, he said that a small-scale housing development would not be desired on such a busy thoroughfare.
He noted that the site has sat vacant for years given the economics.
The applicants bought the site in May 2020 for $1,990,000 with the express purpose of building a showroom. They plan to open it in 2024 if their rezoning application is successful.
The applicants argue that if the property is not rezoned it will remain vacant.
Reilly Owens, a board member, said that main reason housing is not desirable along Northern Boulevard is due to the auto industry.
“The area you are building in doesn’t have much life and that is because of the auto industry,” Owens said. “You don’t think residential will work…but the reason is the dealerships all around it and the auto shops.”
The board listened to the public opine on the project prior to the vote and most spoke in opposition to the plan.
Emilia Decaudin, a Sunnyside resident and Democratic Party District leader in Assembly District 37, said she opposed the application and that the site would be better used for housing. She said that the site should not be used by an auto dealership given the threat of climate change and how fossil fuels are a detriment to the planet’s health.
Meanwhile, Bobby Preti, a local resident and a member of Families for Safe Streets, opposed the plan. “We don’t need oversized SUVs on our streets,” Preti said, noting that a woman was recently struck and killed on 48th Street by a driver of an SUV.
Steven Bodzin, who lives in Jackson Heights, opposed the dealership. “This is not oriented to making New York a cleaner, greener place.”
Community Board 2’s rejection of the plan is merely advisory.
The plan will now go to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards who will have 30 days to make a recommendation. His recommendation will also be advisory.
The City Planning Commission will then have 60 days to vote on it. The CPC vote is typically binding, where its rejection—which is rare– would terminate an application.
The final step in the process is for the plan to go before the city council, which essentially makes the decision.
The site is located in Councilmember Julie Won’s district. She will ultimately decide the fate of the project, since the council typically votes in lockstep with the representative where a development is proposed.
Yes an auto dealership is entirely inappropriate. Auto related business should be eased out of the area in favor of affordable (or any kind of) housing in a walkable, transit accessible area such as this.