BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced last Thursday that she has recommended the rejection of Alma Realty’s proposed development at Astoria Cove.
Among Katz’s cited reasons for disapproval were overburdened public transportation in the area, the fact that a proposed school is scheduled to be built in the last – rather than the first – construction phase, necessary provisions for the use of local skilled labor in construction and insufficient affordable housing.
In a statement released after Katz’s decision, Howard Weiss, who represents the developers, said they were “disappointed” by the recommendation.
However, he noted, “for the most part, the concerns expressed by Community Board 1 and echoed by the Borough President that are within the control of the applicant have been addressed by 2030 Astoria Developers.”
At a June meeting, CB1 also denied the development proposal unless a number of conditions were met, including setting aside 35 percent of the residential units for affordable housing.
Since CB1’s decision, Alma Realty modified their proposal to increase the number of affordable housing units from 295 to 345, making affordable housing 20 percent of the entire project.
They have also proposed a zoning text amendment that mandates affordable housing on the site, which is unprecedented for a residential development of this size, according to Katz’s recommendation documents.
Katz applauded this measure but stated that 20 percent affordable housing is insufficient, and added that the projected rents for the proposed affordable housing would still be out of range for what local Astorians could afford. These projected rents come from calculations based on the City’s definition of affordability.
Alma Realty has not stated what rent they would charge for affordable housing.
“One cannot predict presently what the market will be like when the project actually gets developed through its various phases over a 10-year period,” Weiss said in conversation with the Queens Tribune.
Community advocates have been pushing for even more affordable housing than CB1 and Katz. On the eve of Katz’s decision, the housing coalition Real Affordability For All sent her an open letter calling for a recommendation of 50 percent affordable housing
The coalition sent a similar letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday, calling Astoria Cove a “litmus test for the future of development” under his watch.
Weiss, however, contends that 20 percent affordable housing is the limit of what the development can afford with respect to the other amenities it proposes, such as a public esplanade and the school.
“Those who would oppose this project may assure that not one unit of affordable housing units get built at this site,” Weiss said. “To try to push the envelope any further could kill this project.”
The proposal now moves for review to the City Planning Commission, which held a public hearing on the development Wednesday. The commission has 60 days to issue its decision.
“We remain confident that the City Planning Commission and City Council will recognize that Astoria Cove will be the crown jewel in the revitalization of the Queens waterfront,” Weiss said.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, email@example.com or @JNStrawbridge.