The developer of a proposed daycare center on Union Turnpike says that he’s a longtime Jamaica Estates resident who is trying to revitalize a community that he loves. Some residents say that he’s trying to destroy it for a profit.
Tensions revolving around the incoming daycare played out during a heated Jamaica Estates Civic Association meeting on April 27, where concerned community members were invited to pose questions to the developer, Meir Babaev. The plans call for a three-story facility, with the top two floors and more than 16,000 square feet dedicated to a daycare center and more than 4,000 square feet of retail space. As the Queens Tribune reported in February, the daycare would replace the former Carol School Supply Store, located at 179-24 Union Tpke.
The meeting frequently descended into crosstalk and yelling, with moderator Martha Taylor, chairwoman of Community Board 8, calling for order and residents arguing that they had a right to express themselves.
Residents who attended the meeting raised a number of concerns: the three-story building could change the character of the neighborhood; the building is too close to neighboring houses and could threaten residents’ privacy; and the site could exacerbate traffic and parking problems.
Meanwhile, Babaev argued that the project would be a positive addition to the community and is in line with the neighborhood’s zoning. He said that the daycare was part of a long-term strategy to revitalize the “dilapidated” buildings along Union Turnpike, making the area more pedestrian-friendly and attracting service-oriented businesses without evicting present tenants.
“Just to get some misconceptions off the table—we are not looking for any rezonings at this point,” said Babaev, who has lived in Jamaica Estates for 12 years and is planning to raise his children there. “This is an as-of-right development, which means it is allowed by the city, by the zoning ordinances that are currently in place on Union Turnpike.”
The building is set back 30 feet from the front, making the area more pedestrian-friendly, he said. The second and third floors are narrower than the bottom floor, leaving a play area for the daycare atop the roof on the back side of the first floor. The daycare, Children of America, would occupy the top two floors and a portion of the ground floor.
There are also curb cuts in front of the building, with space to accommodate patrons dropping off or picking up children without creating more traffic on Union Turnpike.
Some residents didn’t buy that.
“Trust me, I know what traffic is like and I know from Union Turnpike, Utopia Parkway and from Hillcrest during the day with the school buses,” one resident said. “You’re going to create a fiasco.”
Babaev argued that traffic was already bad in the area and that the daycare would not exacerbate anything. The resident was angered when Babaev said that employees in the building would likely seek out street parking.
“Where?” she asked. “We don’t have enough spots now.”
Residents brought up traffic issues throughout the night and pushed Babaev to do a traffic study, despite the fact that zoning laws did not require it. Babaev said that he would take their concerns into consideration.
Many residents were concerned about the possibility that the daycare’s glass windows and outdoor play area would allow workers and children to look into adjacent properties.
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), who previously received a petition opposing the project with roughly 30 residents’ signatures, suggested building a taller fence around the play area that could block the view from the building. Babaev said that he would look into it.
There was a handful of supporters of the project. One resident, who operates a daycare in the community, argued that his waiting list was two years long and that a new daycare would be a welcome addition.
Skeptical residents, however, wondered if Babaev’s appearance was anything more than a placation, since he didn’t need approval for the development.
“You’re here to humor us,” said one resident. “This is as a matter of rights to you—so no matter what we have to say, what difference does it really make?”
Babaev said that he was there to listen to concerns and address what he could.
“I’m here because I’m a member of the community and if my fellow neighbors have issues, I’d like to address them,” he said.
“I’m not hiding behind a wall.”