The loading docks would create a 30-foot-wide curb cut and driveway on Metropolitan Avenue. They would also remove three trees from the street.
Felice Bassin, president of Rentar Development Corporation, which manages the site, explained that since Toys R Us and Kmart filed for bankruptcy, the plaza has two empty retail spots totaling 190,000 square feet.
In a move to attract tenants to the space, Bassin wants to split the property into three pieces and increase the number of loading docks from eight to ten.
But to do so, the company needs approval from the Department of Transportation (DOT), which is now waiting for input from the local community board.
Bassin said the three-story structure was originally built for two retailers: a Robert Hall Village store and a Bohack supermarket. Both of those companies also filed for bankruptcy.
Robert Hall Village, at 145,000 square feet, was replaced by a Times Square Store (TSS), a discount department store, followed by Caldor. When that chain folded, it was replaced by Kmart.
The other space, at 45,000 square feet, went from a Bohack to a Waldbaum's supermarket. Waldbaum's moved to the back of the building, opening the space up for Toys R Us.
“The retail market has changed tremendously, especially in the last five years, for many, many reasons,” Bassin said. “We are out in the marketplace looking for tenants to take that space.”
But Bassin believes no tenant will take up the 145,000-square-foot space today because retailers “just don’t take that size store” anymore. Even Target will only occupy a maximum of 60,000 square feet, she said.
That’s why the company is looking to break up the 190,000-square-foot building into three spaces.
Currently, there are four loading docks for one tenant, and four for the other. Bassin plans to add two more.
“We will probably not be able to find three tenants who will be satisfied with the loading positions,” she said.
Bassin admitted that with the retail climate now, many stores, including ones on Woodhaven Boulevard, won’t want to relocate to Rentar Plaza. She said it’s possible the space will not be leased for retail stores.
“It’s possible that it could be a logistics warehouse, which is the way things are going today,” she said.
Board members expressed concerns about traffic and safety. Metropolitan Avenue is already a heavily trafficked corridor, and stopping traffic to park a tractor-trailer presented problems to some members.
Others added that Christ the King High School, where the meeting was taking place, is nearby, meaning students will be walking down Metropolitan Avenue as well.
“You’ve got everybody all over the place,” said CB5 member Steve Fiedler. “This is going to be a nightmare.”
Dorothy Werkmeister, a resident of 65th Lane, said that location is a residential area. She was concerned it would not only affect traffic, but also response times for emergency vehicles.
“This is already an accident-prone location, now we’re going to have tractor-trailers disrupt traffic,” she said. “I really don’t think this was well thought out.”
Werkmeister, as well as several board members, noted that the application, which began in August, didn’t give the board enough time to discuss the issue. CB5 needed to give DOT a recommendation by the following day.
Bassin explained that they were “at the mercy” of city agencies, who she said took a long time to reply and then asked for additional information in a “piecemeal” fashion.
“It wasn’t our doing,” she said. “They said this is the timeframe, they gave it to us.”
The Land Use Committee ultimately recommended opposing the plan. They asked DOT for another 35 days to meet with the applicant, and then bring a recommendation to the full board for another vote next month.
“We are sympathetic to what you want to do, we want to help you reach that goal,” said Walter Sanchez, chair of the Land Use Committee. “I don’t think we can vote in favor of this now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on this project in a good manner.”
[Editor’s Note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this newspaper.]