New Restaurants Planned In Elmhurst

BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Staff Writer

Chain eateries not common in the borough of Queens will come to a vacant parking lot near Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst after overcoming a 12-year delay and a legal battle between the City and the developer.

The Mattone Group, a Queens based development and construction company, presented new plans last week to bring Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Joe’s Crab Shack on a 25,000 to 30,000 square foot lot, during a meeting with the Newtown Civic Association and Community Board 4 members.

The new eateries have found a longawaited home at the intersection of 92nd Street and 59th Avenue, which Carl Mattone, president of Mattone Group, said are “family style, tableservice restaurants that will bring three times more jobs than the previous anticipated movie theatre.”

If the project continues as planned, Mattone said the community will see the new restaurants by next spring.

Plans discussed in 2000 between the City’s Economic Development Corporation and the Mattone Group caused years of anguish amongst community members, like Robert Valdes-Clausell, who is an officer of the Newtown Civic Association and a member of CB4.

CB4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol said he has a lot of unanswered questions and is concerned that the free parking available to the restaurant-goers will be used by those going to Queens Center Mall.

The Mattone Group first acquired the vacant parking lot from the City for considerably less than the property’s actual value because of an agreement contingent upon promises made by the developer to the Elmhurst community. Years later, those promises have not been fulfilled.

The EDC brought the Mattone Group to court, where the two parties declared a $3 million settlement in February. The settlement allows the developer to scratch the old promises, keep the property, modify the original deed from 2001 and build the restaurants on the property without having to undergo the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure again.

According to City officials, the new development will bring 150 more jobs than the previous settlement would have.

Even though CB4 members were against the proposed development by the Mattone Group in 2000, Queens
Borough President Claire Shulman voted in favor of the project because of promises made by the developer that
would in turn benefit the Elmhurst community.

As partial consideration for the land conveyed, Shulman’s considerations state that the Mattone Group would demolish the existing Elmwood Theater building and donate the site to the Catholic Medical Center to build a senior citizen facility, as an extension to the now closed St. John’s Hospital.

Valdes-Clausell said the only reason the developer paid $2.2 million for a property worth far more than that was because they agreed to donate the Elmwood Theater site, regardless of their plans to build a new movie theater.

“They didn’t pay for it fully because they were going to do other things to compensate for the loss of City land,”
Valdes-Clausell said. “But that never happened.”

Since the Mattone Group was liable to develop the site within two years from the final sale of the site, Shulman’s
recommendations states, if the two year period expires and construction has not begun, then the approvals are no longer valid and any new plans should be approved under the ULURP.”

The proposed movie theater would cause significant traffic impacts in the area, therefore, the Mattone Group also promised to cover costs for a traffic mitigation plan that included a variety of standard measures.

None of the promises were kept because the Mattone Group said they were not able to find a replacement movie theater tenant after the proposed Lowes Movie Theatre declared bankruptcy. The promised senior citizen home was also never built because the Mattone Group never purchased the Elmwood Theatre and later St. John’s Hospital shut down.

The developer claims they do not need to seek the community’s approval again because the proposed restaurants
are in accordance with the area’s zoning laws, the Newtown Civic Association feels otherwise.

The Association is challenging the Mattone Group because they say the developer did not comply with the previous
resolutions made.

They have filed a Freedom of Law application with EDC to have a more transparent understanding of how the Mattone Group was selected to build on City land 13 years ago.

“Since they did not comply with the City, the City should have a right to take their property back and use it to
build a new police station for the 110th Precinct,” Valdes-Clausell said.

Cassagnol along with the EDC, Dept. of Transportation, the Mattone Group and the Newtown Civic Association
will meet next Tuesday to discuss plans in further detail.

Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, tsakhuja@queenstribune.com, or @Tsakhuja13.