June 21, 2018 By Tara Law
Community Board 1 has approved the Variety Boys and Girls Club’s application for a zoning change that would permit the non-profit to build a 14-story mixed use tower and an adjoining 5-story clubhouse on the corner of 21st Street and 30th Road.
The board voted 29 to 8— with one abstention— to approve the rezoning on Tuesday, which clears the way for a 145-foot building that would contain 112 residential units. Between 25 and 30 percent of the units would be deemed affordable as required by the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirement.
The board’s approval is contingent on the club providing affordable units for people with very modest incomes and that the building be as energy efficient and as “environmentally neutral” as possible.
Board members also called on the club to offer additional free programming.
Variety Boys and Girls, which was founded in 1955, plans to use the rental income generated from the tower to pay for the five-story clubhouse that will be attached. The rental income would also cover its ongoing operating costs.
The residential tower and five-story clubhouse would form one 198,149 square foot building, as they would be connected by a one-story retail space.
The new club building would offer a variety of new amenities, including two basketball courts; a community theater; an indoor pool; science and technology classrooms; a rooftop soccer field and a planetarium.
The club says the new building would accommodate “at least double” the number of children who currently use the building. The club can fit about 220 children at any one time, but the new building would likely accommodate about 500 children.
Matthew Troy, the club’s executive director, said that many children were put on waiting lists last year because the club could not accommodate them.
“That breaks my heart. I want us to be open for everyone, that is our mission,” Troy said. “We absolutely need more space and this is our opportunity.”
The club’s property currently falls within in two zoning areas. One section of the site permits a building that is up to 95 feet tall, while the other a height of 50 feet.
The community board’s approval, which is advisory, will now be reviewed by the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and finally the Mayor. The Borough President’s opinion is also advisory, while a rejection from the other three government bodies will block the project.
Councilmember Costa Constantinides spoke to the board on Tuesday and said that he was looking forward to working with the community to advance the project.
The board’s primary concerns with Variety’s proposal dealt with the affordable housing component of the project.
It asked the club to set aside 25 percent of the units for households making an average of 60 percent of the Average Median Income.
The club has two choices under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirement: it must set aside 25 percent of the units at 60 percent AMI; or 30 percent of the units at 80 percent AMI.
The board also asked that the 14-story building be constructed with “materials that will lessen visual intensity of the height of the building,” and that Variety commit to making the building environmentally friendly.
Walter Sanchez, president of the Boys and Girls Club’s board of directors, addressed the stipulations in an interview after the meeting.
He said that the club is addressing the board’s directives in several ways. For instance, he said, the club intends to hire a sustainability consultant for the project, and will install solar panels on the building’s roof.
He added that the club is open to the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing option the board had suggested, but that the final decision is “up to the councilmember.”
“If the community feels it’s better, so be it,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said that the club is also offering ample free programming, with 85 percent of the children attending programs for free.
Sanchez said that as chair of Community Board 5’s Land Use committee, he understands why community boards are sometimes resistant to new development. However, he said, the neighborhood’s growing population requires new amenities.
“There’s so much development in Astoria, you need to have huge after school programs,” Sanchez said.