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Tensions Boil Over About Plans to Build 'Restaurant Row' Near Mall

By Katie Honan | February 11, 2014 6:46pm
 Councilman Danny Dromm questioned the president of the Mattone Group over their community involvement.
Local Politicians Tangles With Developer Over New Chain Restaurants
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ELMHURST — A plan to build a "restaurant row" near the Queens Center Mall has sparked a food fight with a local pol, who claims that the community was not given enough input in the process.

The plan is to build an Olive Garden, a LongHorn Steakhouse and a Joe's Crab Shack on a plot of land vacant for more than a decade, dubbed the Queens Way Plaza by the developers, replacing an earlier plan to build a movie theater.

Councilman Danny Dromm said he only found out about the plan in the media, and said during a presentation to the borough president Monday that it was "the best example of how not to do a project."

"How a project of this size, and this change as was indicated in the presentation, was approved  without any community consultation is beyond me," he said at the Borough Hall meeting.

The project was presented to Community Board 4 last August but the board did not vote on it. The current incarnation also did not go through extensive community vetting.

The College Point-based developers, the Mattone Group, purchased the land from the city in December of 2001, with the hopes of building a 20 screen multiplex theater, according to Michael Mattone, who presented the plans to Borough President Melinda Katz and other officials at a meeting Monday night.

But the movie theater industry "cratered" soon after and the land, along 59th Avenue between 94th and 92nd streets, was left vacant for years, he said.

The city took the Mattone Group to court over the lack of development, and settled in February for $3 million, officials said.

The group came up with the idea for a "restaurant row" two years ago, and signed three leases in 2013, according to Mattone. The restaurants are scheduled to open in the summer, he said.

But the change from the original plan, which did not go through the same vetting process, and a lack of involvement with community officials, angered Dromm.

Other community officials questioned the project's impact to the surrounding neighborhoods, especially with traffic near the already busy mall.

The chair of Community Board 4 said Tuesday the change in plans for project was handled "in secret."

"It's the way the whole thing was handled," said Lou Walker, the board's chair. "We really don't know whatever went on behind closed doors."

Carl Mattone, president of the Mattone Group, told the councilman to take his concerns up with the Economic Development Corporation, who he said was the driving force behind the project.

"It's a legitimate concern but that's something you should take up with EDC," Mattone replied, and added that Dromm was being "misleading" about the lack of community input.

The EDC declined to comment.

Borough President Melinda Katz said her office will facilitate a meeting between Dromm, the Mattone Group and the community board to address various concerns.

An earlier version of this story said the plan was approved by Community Board 4 in August. However, the plan was presented to the board, but it was not put to a vote.