June 1, 2017 2017 By Jason Cohen
The MTA is debating whether to demolish the bridge that goes over the Long Island Railroad on Lefferts Boulevard, leaving 13 business owners in the heart of Kew Gardens worried about their future.
For more than 90 years the bridge over the Long Island Railroad has been home to mom and pop businesses. The MTA and LIRR own the bridge and surrounding land.
The bridge, which is between Austin and Grenfell streets, near the Kew Gardens LIRR station and the Kew Gardens Cinemas, has been falling apart for several years and is in dire need of repair, business owners and officials agree.
Nathalie Reid, who runs Thyme Natural Market, a business on the bridge, said nothing has been done to address the bridge’s disrepair, which has resulted in flooding and electrical problems for store owners. She explained the issue was finally addressed about a year ago when she and her fellow business owners went to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz.
Koslowitz brought the issue up with the MTA. The MTA then conducted a study of the bridge in the spring of 2016 and then in September sent people again to look at it.
Earlier this month the picture as to the bridge’s future became clearer.
On May 18, Koslowitz held a meeting with the MTA and discussed the condition of the bridge and what could be done. It was there where the MTA announced it would cost about $20 million to fix it and it may not renew the lease when it expires in 2020 with the property manager, who subleases the space to the stores.
The MTA, according to Koslowitz’ office, believes it is a better option to demolish the bridge and the stores. It would then look to rebuild the bridge and then hire a developer to build above it.
Michael Cohen, a spokesman for Koslowitz, said the councilwoman could not believe it would cost $20 million to repair the bridge. Therefore, she suggested the business owners hire an independent engineer to work with the MTA’s engineer. The hope is that when the engineers meet in June a better outcome can be reached.
“She and the residents want something more than the MTA’s opinion,” Cohen said.
Reid, a resident of Kew Gardens, who has had her business for seven years, said she appreciates the councilwoman’s help, but this all could have been avoided if the MTA and property manager had done their jobs.
The MTA hasn’t paid them any attention in years, Reid said, and when Long Island-based Zee N Kay Management LLC took over the property in March 2010, things got worse.
Reid noted that stores have had electrical issues, flooding, holes in the floor and pipes bursting. The MTA and Zee N Kay have never fixed these problems, she said, and that the business owners have had to pay for the repairs themselves.
Ultimately, both parties are claiming the store repairs should be done by the other, she stressed. Each one says it’s the others responsibility to pay.
“We’ve been constantly fighting for the last seven years with the MTA and Zee N Kay,” she said. “We knew there was something not right about this whole scenario.”
The MTA and Zee N Kay really do not care about the tenants, she claimed.
“It’s sort of that general idea that if you’re a landlord you’re supposed to maintain the building,” Reid remarked. “They want to get rid of us. They’re not doing right by the community.”
Kew Gardens residents, business owners and activists have put together The Save Kew Gardens Coalition that aims to save the bridge and launched an online petition on Change.org, which had more than 1,700 signatures as of Wednesday evening.
Kunal Kapoor, a representative of Z N Kay, said a lot of the animosity toward the management company is unwarranted. Kapoor said that the licensing agreement with the MTA is clear that they are not responsible for the undersides, exterior rear walls and the support columns where the problems stem from.
He noted that Councilwoman Koslowitz was unaware of the agreement between the two parties, but now has copies and understands the maintenance issues belong to the MTA-LIRR.
According to Kapoor, Koslowitz also knows that his company has been complaining to the MTA-LIRR about the holes on the backs and the undersides for six plus years and are still waiting for them to take action. Since 2011, he said his company has had several meetings with MTA-LIRR regarding the matter.
Furthermore, Kapoor said in the past two years, the only stores to complain to elected officials are Thyme Natural Market, Reo Chemists and Pradeep Agarwal CPA. No other businesses have made negative comments about their organization.
“We hope that you will learn that our company has become a scapegoat in the matter,” Kapoor said.
The MTA refused to comment on his allegations and the future of the bridge, but said “it is actively working with all elected officials and committed to working with the community to find the best possible outcome for this location.”