By TRISHA SAKHUJA
The developer of a series of proposed chain restaurants being built in Elmhurst faced criticism of the project during a meeting Tuesday night.
On Aug. 27, members of Community Board 4 and the Newtown Civic Association met with Carl Mattone, president of the Mattone Group, to clarify concerns to help bridge a communication gap pertaining to the project’s development.
The development will bring three restaurants – Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Joe’s Crab Shack – to a former parking lot near the Queens Center Mall. When the Mattone Group originally purchased the land, 13 years ago, the plans called for a new movie theater and a proposed senior center at the site of the Elmwood Theatre.
When the original plans began to break down, community members began to feel misled about the scope of the project.
Mattone noted that “there is a lot of misinformation about this project,” because it has seen a number of complicated scenarios that were out of his control. He added that despite the new project’s smaller scope, the three restaurants proposed would bring close to 300 permanent jobs to the area.
While Audrey Galligan, a long-time CB4 member, questioned the need for three more restaurants in an area “loaded with restaurants,” Mattone said he believed the project fit the needs of the community.
Robert Valdes-Clausell, a member of the Newtown Civic Association, charged that the project has seen “a lack of transparency,” adding that too many questions were left unanswered.
“Even though Mattone was present at the meeting, he was not able to answer many of the legal questions because he said he is not a lawyer,” Valdes-Clausell said.
Valdes-Clausell said the developer purchased the land for below market value contingent on donating land for the senior center. He questioned why the Mattone Group did not look to donate another site to comply with the original project guidelines.
Mattone responded to the criticism saying that the property was bought at fair market value at the time.
“The City doesn’t even give ice away during the winter,” Mattone said.