New developments concern longtime residents
by Michael Perlman
Jan 17, 2018 | 9223 views | 5 5 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shops over the LIRR bridge in Kew Gardens.
Shops over the LIRR bridge in Kew Gardens.
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Piu Bello
Piu Bello
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Forest Hills Jewish Center
Forest Hills Jewish Center
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Key Food
Key Food
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Shalimar Diner
Shalimar Diner
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Forest Hills and Rego Park residents and business owners continue to feel disgruntled and perplexed over planned demolitions and developments in the neighborhoods, which could result in the loss of landmark-worthy sites and longtime small businesses.

In many cases, that includes condos and office towers, while overcrowded schools, limited parking, and the loss of green space and historic character are widespread concerns. Rumors have been circulating in the community, and here is a look at a few of the most pressing scenarios.

As early as next fall, Forest Hills Jewish Center (FHJC), which had its cornerstone laid in 1947 at 106-06 Queens Boulevard, will likely be slated for demolition.

“They say that FHJC is not closing, but the truth is that it will be demolished and rebuilt within a glass condo box and stores by developer F&T Group,” said Forest Hills resident Christine O'Connor, who has a close friend on the board. “A parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs said that the church is also low on funds, making that in jeopardy too. Seeing bulldozers at these beautiful historic places of worship is a sin.”

FHJC’s façade features stones from Jerusalem and a desecrated temple from the Holocaust, stained glass windows depicting the Burning Bush, and crab-orchard rock reminiscent of Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Among the other significant features are the Holy Ark designed by Arthur Szyk, which resembles an ornate Torah breastplate.

“Carl Koerner described to us members what the exact plans are, and to my understanding it will be executed in the fall,” said Mark Weinblatt, who said he was briefed by the organization's Building Committee chair. “They will completely demolish FHJC and relocate to trailers on Austin Street near Gerard Towers for at least two years. The new building will be two floors, and the rest will be commercial.”

“It is historical and award-winning,” added Iris Gretano, referencing the building's recognition by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “This is a monument to commemorate all the struggles that the Jewish people went through and how they persevered. Its demolition would be a monumental loss.”

One block away, an eight-story office building by RJ Capital Holdings is slated to rise opposite MacDonald Park on the site of several small businesses from 107-02 to 107-16 Queens Boulevard.

A demolition permit was filed in November 2016. On one window, a sign reads, “After 27 years and with much sadness, Liz Cleaners will be officially closed on January 21.”

“My family acquired this dry cleaners in the early 1990s, and now will not relocate but retire,” said Jeff Cha. “I have a lease until 2021, but a demolition clause negated that.”

He also pinpointed the loss of character beyond his own business.

“Forest Hills has been the staple of what a family-owned neighborhood should be like, with store owners and customers having relationships,” he said. “But with the rapid development and absence of family-owned businesses where the rent isn't sustainable, it is losing that appeal.”

“I feel bad because I spent half of my life here, but it is not easy to start again somewhere else,” said Yuriy Fay, who has owned Yuriy's Shoe Repair for 21 years.

Echoing those sentiments is Joie Tin, manager of Party World, which has been in operation for 16 years.

“We don’t plan on reopening, but if we were able to sign another lease, we would have,” Tin said.

Caffe Biu Bella, which originally opened a block south on Austin Street in the 1990s as Piu Bello, has already closed.

“We started working at Piu Bello in our early twenties,” said owner Adriana Morote. “Later, we encountered all kinds of challenges, but battled it as a family. Customers have become our adoptive family. We love Forest Hills and we’re not leaving.”

“Customers loved to sit by the open doors in front of MacDonald Park, which felt like being on an island,” added sister and co-owner Karina Morote.

Green space and street trees have often been compromised by new developments. Steve Melnick requested the trees on the block in 2008.

“It is imperative, and city law, that they are protected during any construction at that site,” he said.

Key Food at 105-02 Queens Boulevard is also being redeveloped, after the owner and Slate Property Group filed a demolition permit in June. It will be replaced by an 11-story rental building with retail that will open in 2020. The loss of the supermarket will leave a void.

“There are already many high-rises in the surrounding area,” said Gretano. “There are many young parents with children and elderly people that need that store.”

In Rego Park, the future of Shalimar Diner at 63-68 Austin Street is in question. Opened in the early 1970s, the family-owned business appeared in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“Two employees said that the lease expires in November 2018,” said patron Joseph Leone. “The owner sold the property to a real estate developer for the construction of a 25-story apartment building. If it closes, there won’t be a replacement for it in the community.”

On the south side of Queens Boulevard between 65th Road and 66th Avenue, five retail buildings containing small businesses, including the popular Sato restaurant and Masbia Soup Kitchen, were demolished over the past year. Plans include the development of one office and two residential buildings.

Residents are also concerned about the MTA's possible demolition of a Tudor-style row of mom-and-pop shops on Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens.

“The proposed condos over the LIRR bridge are a huge concern for me, and literally over 5,000 other petition signers,” said Eric Schreiber. “Demolition would displace all of the small businesses on the bridge that the mostly older residents have come to rely on for food and services, and a condo would greatly increase the need for additional parking in an already overburdened area.”

“How about somebody fighting for more arts in Forest Hills that creates character, instead of more wildly overpriced offices and apartments?” asked Evan Ginzburg.

Comments
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No Fake News
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January 20, 2018
Once again, there's inaccurate reporting by this reporter based on "facts" from a customer who heard the information from a waitress. The owner of the Shalimar Diner called this newspaper to say the report is false and they are not closing.

By the way, this great journalism came from the same person who reported the renewal of the Barnes and Noble lease, just a half hour before Target announced plans to open their Forest Hills store at the same location. Constantly bad reporting hurts the credibility of this newspaper.
ForestHillsFan
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January 18, 2018
Is this an article or an editorial? I think most FH residents can appreciate the beauty of some of the local buildings but why wasn't anything mentioned in this story about the state of disrepair at the Jewish Center; the declining congregation size; the services it provides to seniors, kids and the extended community; or the costs involved with the historical preservation of a building like that. Has anyone considered what happens if the congregation folds altogether or moves, and leaves the building vacant in the future? Talk about urban blight. At the very least, you have an obligation as a journalist to paint a fair picture of the situation and the options at hand, rather than collecting quotes from local residents that support one view. I would be interested in hearing how elements of the sanctuary and building might be preserved in the new construction in a creative way and what the developers could contribute the community. If people advocate for it, along with our local electeds and FHJC, MacDonald Park could get a pretty significant infusion of money from a project of this nature. Also, the community can advocate to keep a supermarket (I mean a good one) in the commercial space of the upcoming building on the Key Food site. I believe there are ways to find a balance.
Stu Maz
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January 18, 2018
Michael - it seems it has already been determined the destiny of Forest Hills - it's a shame people cant seem to see the beauty I saw when I lived in forest Hills. It was a great place growing up , it's too bad I cant go back to my old forest Hills - the forest hills organization really messed it all up for greed . My heart sank when I heard what happened to Forest Hills theater, and all the mom and pop stores on Austin Street disappearing - that was my neighborhood - shame on you guys you messed up a great place . Please fight for the forest hills Jewish center - I had so many memories there - please stop this madness !

Jeffrey lipson
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January 18, 2018
I feel the same way. I wish there was something we could all do to stop the greed.

Isaak
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January 18, 2018
What do u suggest we do to save the Jewish Center at this point?