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Queens Real Estate Developer Faces Opposition by Socialist Politicos

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All Heskel Elias wants to do is build an apartment building at 40-31 82nd St., in Jackson Heights, Queens, with fairly priced apartments and a Target store on the bottom. It hasn’t been easy. Photo Credit: CUNY TV

All Heskel Elias wants to do is build an apartment building at 40-31 82nd St., in Jackson Heights, Queens, with fairly priced apartments and a Target store on the bottom.

It hasn’t been easy.

Liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spoken out against the project. Elias, a developer, is also being sued by a community organization together with a state senator.

Some claim it is solely politics that stands in the way of the project. “In politics, in order to shine, you need to find an enemy you can bash,” Elias told Crain’s New York Business. “And I was the perfect person at the perfect moment.”

According to Elias, Councilman Francisco Moya was a supporter not long ago. “Moya was advocating for us,” he told Crain’s said. “We would have never gone ahead and spent $1 million on the planning of this project if he hadn’t given us encouragement.”

But once Ocasio-Cortez spoke out against the project, attitudes suddenly changed as progressivism won the day. Months ago, members of the group Queens Neighborhoods United (QNS) got together with State Senator Jessica Ramos. The group brought a lawsuit against Target. They argued that developers Sun-Equity Partners and Heskel Group violated local zoning regulations that only allow small-local businesses to be established in the area. They also claim that construction impedes access to Elmhurst Hospital and that Target will displace low- to middle-income residents.

“Those stores aren’t for us,” said Josselyn Atahualpa, a member of QNU about big-box stores, as quoted on the group’s web site. “Atahualpa was one the multiple members of QNU that gathered at Duningham Triangle on Jan. 6 to hold what they called a “People’s Court” against Target and its developers. Community members and allies in opposition to the Target’s construction were given a few minutes with a megaphone to state why they believe Target would hurt the neighborhood.”

Last month, the Board of Standards and Appeals delivered a motion in favor of developers seeking to top off a Target at 82nd Street in Elmhurst, which QNS on its web site termed “a controversial decision that anti-gentrification groups have opposed for over a year. Moreover, Councilman Francisco Moya issued a statement criticizing the decision.:

“While I haven’t been able to personally review the BSA’s decision yet to understand its rationale for permitting the Target project to move forward, I can say that I believe all the residents, activists and elected officials who testified against this project articulated a sound argument,” Moya said. “My interpretation of the zoning regulations remains the same. It’s a mistake allowing organizations to use cellar space as a loophole to skirt zoning rules. Any interpretation of the zoning text that permits this loophole is ignoring the spirit of the regulation. As the chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, I’ll be looking into updating the zoning text to protect against this loophole.”

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