Jan. 24, 2023 By Christian Murray
The city council rejected a rezoning application last week where the owners of a Northern Boulevard site in Woodside planned to build an auto-dealership.
The application, where the developers sought to demolish an abandoned restaurant and build a 2-story Lincoln showroom, was voted down after it came under harsh criticism from many residents who argued that the auto industry was no longer welcome on Northern Boulevard.
The critics were able to convince local Councilmember Julie Won to block the plan, despite the application winning the conditional approval of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and the approval of the City Planning Commission.
Won’s disapproval essentially torpedoed the application for the 58-02 Northern Blvd. site. The council rejected it based on her opinion.
“I was elected Council Member of District 26 to be a voice for my community,” Won said in a statement. “Our neighbors have made it clear that they no longer want auto-related uses on the corridor and seek more walkability, livability, and residential in an area where we have 2 schools and 5 places of faith.”
Her decision came four months after Community Board 2 rejected the proposal by a 17 for and 15 against vote–with one abstention.
The reason for the board’s rejection, which was advisory, was not that the proposed building would be too large or that the planned use of the site would be out of character—but because the application was for an auto dealership.
The board’s motion read in part: “Community Board 2 opposes the development of any auto related industry along the Northern Boulevard corridor.”
Frank St. Jacques, a land use attorney for the applicants, told the community board prior to the vote that the site is currently occupied by a one-story vacant restaurant building.
A new restaurant, he 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 called for the site to be rezoned R6B/C2-2 district. The change would have permitted medium-density residential housing as well as commercial uses such as the showroom.
The proposed Lincoln dealership would have been a 2-story building, with the main showroom on the first floor and accessory office space on the second floor. Vehicles, according to the proposal, would have been stored in the cellar, accessed via a car elevator. The showroom would not have contained any repair services, or delivery staging areas. The applicants said they planned to hire 18 employees.
But the dealership owners, Michael Naclerio and Joseph Vultaggio, received a cool reception from several board members at the meeting last year, especially once it was made clear that Lincoln would use the showroom to sell SUVs.
The applicants, who bought the site in May 2020 for $1,990,000 with the sole purpose of building a showroom, were told by several board members that the district had a greater need for housing than automobiles.
The rezoning, however, if it had been approved would have also permitted the owners—had they desired– to have constructed a residential building as large as 5 stories. Such a development would consist of about 10 dwelling units.
Under the current R5 zoning, a building can be as high as 3 stories with fewer units.
St. Jacques said he was doubtful that it would be economically feasible to build housing at the site under R5 zoning.
The application had been conditionally approved by Richards, who said that pedestrian safety and the opening of a new business could both be achieved.
“I understand the concerns about pedestrian safety and climate change, and I acknowledge that Northern Boulevard has been a dangerous corridor for cyclists and pedestrians alike,” Richards wrote in making his recommendation. “However, these interests can coexist with proper mitigation.”
The City Planning Commission also endorsed the application.
“The project area is well suited for the modest increase in height and density of a RB6/CB2-2 zoning district,” the commission wrote in support of the project.
“The Commission finds that the C2-2 commercial overlay is appropriate,” adding that “The commercial showroom allowed by commercial overlay will transform a vacant building into a productive commercial use that aligns with the low-rise, auto-oriented nature of Northern Boulevard today.”
Councilmember Julie Won, in rejecting the proposal, said that the Northern Boulevard corridor needs to undergo a rezoning and that rezoning applications should not be done on a site-by-site basis.
“My community has unanimously requested a comprehensive neighborhood rezoning for Northern Boulevard, and I am in full support of it,” Won said.
She also noted that there are several residential developments that will be going up in the greater area—such as Innovation QNS– and that the area needs to focus on walkability and safety, as opposed to the auto industry.
“I stand with my community in their rejection of auto-related uses on the Northern Boulevard corridor,” Won said.