In the heart of the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood, there is a development site that hosted a row of small businesses until a fire destroyed the entire block in 2016. Between the removal of debris and the first shovel in the ground, a painstaking effort to secure funding and approvals was underway.

“For three years it was empty. We purchased it and cleaned up the soil, passed certification, which took a lot of time and effort,” said Avi Matatov, principal of VP Capital Holdings, which owns the property. “We could then build what we wanted. We told the Department of City Planning that this neighborhood is underbuilt and we received the go-ahead for rezoning.”

The cleanup of the soil was supervised by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which declared the site free of pollutants in December 2019.

This week, Community Board 8 was scheduled to hear testimony concerning an expansion to the mixed-use building at 77-39 Vleigh Place. The proposal seeks to raise the project to seven floors with 43,608 square feet of commercial space, 10,433 square feet for a community facility, and approximately 119 residential units, of which 25 to 30 percent would be permanently affordable based on the median income of the neighborhood.

The meeting was postponed for next month to allow for more public input.

“Our project was included in the meeting at very short notice, and we want the public to learn about it. We will reach out to the community and local synagogues,” said Matatov.

Cities prosper when there is room for growth to accommodate the demand for housing, small businesses, and nonprofits. When there is no new construction, cities stagnate, rents and housing values become unattainable, and prospective residents look elsewhere to build their communities.

The developer of the block on Vleigh Place applied for the zoning amendment because he recognizes the demand for housing in Kew Gardens Hills. In 2004, the Opal apartments transformed an undeveloped lot into a mixed-income tower that has market-rate units and those reserved through an affordable housing lottery. At this time, Parsons Boulevard is welcoming two apartment buildings at 76th Road, and a mixed-use building at 72nd Avenue.

At the same time, in the past decade, residential properties on 150th Street, 73rd Avenue, and 71st Avenue were demolished in favor of yeshivos, as there are more families seeking to provide a Jewish education to their children.

Considering the immediate location of the Vleigh Place property, we see a preschool across the street from a park, and a complex of co-op apartments to the south. Within a minute’s walk is a Chabad House, the Bukharian synagogue Torat Chaim Ohel Sarah, and the Young Israel of Queens Valley. All of these synagogues need young families to remain viable and, at the same time, senior citizens also need affordable housing in the neighborhoods where they’ve lived for decades.

“We are not running the lottery for the affordable units, and we want people in our community to apply for these units. This building will have space for sukkos, which will set it apart from other buildings in this area,” said Matatov. Every floor will have a public room where residents can gather for events, and I am expecting that there will be a gym on the first floor,” said Matatov.

The New Jersey-based Jarmel Kizel Architects shared renderings of the proposed building, showing a green rooftop, a dozen sidewalk trees, and large windows framed by bricks of three colors. The garage entrances will be on the sides of the building with stores on Vleigh Place.

The provision for a community facility allows for a nonprofit, religious institution, daycare, or a medical office to have the space, under the assumption that they are a benefit to the public. Concerning traffic conditions and parking, Matatov said that his project addresses these concerns by going far beyond the minimum requirements.

“We presented our case before a city planning board. It was approved unanimously with ten votes. It will have 130 parking spaces, which is more than enough. The zoning here only requires 40 spots.”