A developer is proposing an 11,443 sq. ft. Walgreens Drug store at the old Silver Crest factory site located at 80-01 Eliot Avenue corner 80th Street in Middle Village. Silver Crest was owned by the Schwartz Brothers who started a dairy farm dating back to the early 1900s and then built a milk processing plant.
Silver Crest has sold this property to developer, John Genovese, who is planning to build for the Walgreens Drug Store chain. Apparently Walgreens will lease the space if they can get an 11,000 sq. ft store. However the space, which sits on one square block, is too small to fit the desired store, which, according to the zoning, requires 38 parking spots and a loading dock. As a result the applicant has filed a zoning variance request with the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for approval of the larger building.
The applicant wants an 11,443 sq. ft. building, a parking lot for only 26 cars and no loading dock.
When there is a request for a variance the community gets to give a good amount of input on the issue, pro and con. A request for a variance must go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).The first stop in the review is the Community Board. It must also be reviewed by Councilman Gallagher, Borough President Marshall, and finally the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals who will ultimately make the decision on the variance request.
Presently, Community Board 5 is reviewing the application.
The Juniper Park Civic Association has given the issue a good amount of thought and here's where we are at this point. Yes, we definitely don't need another drug store in Middle Village. Currently there are 9 drug stores within a one mile radius of the site. Everywhere you look, there are drug stores, with accommodations for everything, even food. Often they leave existing businesses struggling to survive because of their wide product range. In its own way, it's bizarre to see all these drug stores and, better yet, one would wonder, how do they all operate with a profit? The marketplace makes the final decision on that question with price and service the means test as to whether they survive. With 9 drug stores in Middle Village, all seemingly doing very well, you have to conclude, we love our drug stores!
On the surface this seems to be a no-brainer. We just don't need another drug store in our neighborhood, certainly not a 24-hour establishment and we don't want a store with a smaller parking lot and no loading dock.We already have a fine drug store directly across the street in Artis Drugs. So, you would think our decision should be an automatic one, but wait, not so fast, let's think about this, because here's the bigger issue.
There are other building threats looming at this site. For instance, as of right, under existing zoning, one of the worst case scenarios of all would be a 24/7 fast food chain along with drive thru windows, bringing a barrage of additional traffic and garbage to the community. Ask anyone who lives near any of these fast food nightmares and you may start to look at a Walgreens threat as the kinder, gentler alternative. I don't know of any community that's looking to have a fast food establishment in their neighborhood.
Traditionally they bring nothing but problems. The fast food threat and other less desirable alternatives to a drug store are making us take a closer look at Walgreens. If we work to defeat the giant chain, what else might we get?
Among the development possibilities that we would love to see is a professional building. It seems to us that there is always room in the marketplace for such a structure. Besides providing a readily available service to the community, professional buildings usually have orderly business hours, avoiding the 24-hour threat, with its accompanying noise and traffic. Also, very importantly, huge 18-wheeler delivery trucks would be eliminated from the scene and, hence off our local streets. This type of development would be what could be described as our A plan.
No question, if we end up faced with the Walgreens scenario, a very low B plan, they would have to make huge accommodations in their variance request by scaling down the size of their operation.They would have to make provisions for a loading dock and, very importantly, letting us, the community know, just when they will make their deliveries. We definitely don't want to be looking at their enormous trailer trucks on Eliot Avenue in the middle of the busy work day. The developers have already told us that scaling back on the size of the building is not on the table because they know from doing their square rooting of the issue with their magic slide rulers, just how big a store they need to make a profit. They need, they say, 11,000 plus square feet to profit. At the required zoned 9,000 square feet, they lose, so they tell us. Yes, it's that scientific!
What do we do? I have talked to many people in our neighborhood who tell me they would love a Walgreens and they ask me, "What's the problem?" Just as many others are adamantly against the plan and think we should fight it to the death. Remember, as of right, a 9,000 square foot Walgreens could be built tomorrow with 38 parking spaces and the community would have nothing to say. At least with a variance request we have some kind of control because we can stipulate certain restrictions on the use of the property if the Walgreens development was the final decision. Therein lies our dilemma.
JPCA President, Robert Holden, who sits on the CB5 Land Use Committee, the committee that will review the application, has stated, "Like most things, we have to weigh the pros and cons of a development like this, while we are not sorry to see the dilapidated Silver Crest factory era end, we do have to consider all future possibilities for the site and its impact on the community."
Since the Community Board is an advisory board their decision is only a recommendation. Councilman Gallagher and Borough President Marshall must also give their recommendations. Ultimately it is the Board of Standards and
Appeals that will decide the fate of this project.
If the past is any indication of the future, the Board of Standards and Appeals approves about 95% of variance requests. "We have not been happy with the BSA since the vast majority of their decisions favor the applicant at the expense of the community," said Holden. "We certainly don't need or want another 24-hour drugstore, much less of the giant chain store variety. The dilemma is the other possibilities for the site that pose the bigger threat."
We have a sad note to add that brings the Walgreens issue and the overdevelopment problem into sharp focus. As we go to press, it has been announced what we have known for sometime, Arby's will open a restaurant at the current Niederstein's site on Metropolitan Avenue.
Everyone's blood runs cold when they think of our beloved Niederstein's, one of the oldest and most beautiful restaurants in NYC, becoming a fast food Arby's. It is a sobering end to a rich, historic era in Middle Village. It magnifies the indifference developers have for that history and a building site.