Sept. 29, 2014 By Michael Florio
The developer of the controversial Astoria Cove proposal overcame a significant hurdle this afternoon when the plan was approved by the City Planning Commission.
All that is left before the proposal becomes a reality is the approval of the City Council. Councilman Costa Constantinides, who represents the district where Astoria Cove is proposed to be built, will have the most sway as to how the council will vote.
The developer, Alma Realty, has faced some stiff opposition throughout the process as it aims to build five mixed-use towers, consisting of 1,700 residential units—of which 20% would be affordable. The plan also calls for 54,000 square feet of retail space, a public school and a waterfront walkway to the Hallets Cove peninsula.
While the City Planning Commission approved the plan, it was not a unanimous decision, with some members expressing concern that the number of units set aside for affordable housing was insufficient.
The big sticking point from the get-go has been the number of units that would be set aside as “affordable”. The public—backed by the community board and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz—has said Alma’s 20% figure was not enough.
The City Planning Commission approved the plan, despite Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Community Board 1 calling on the planning commission to reject it. Both sought more affordable units.
Community Board 1 voted to deny the proposal in June, unless the number of affordable units increased to 35 percent, or roughly 590 units.
In July, Alma Realty raised the amount of affordable housing units from 17 percent to 20 percent (about 345 units), the bare minimum under New York’s inclusionary zoning program, implemented by the de Blasio administration.
“We would like as much [affordable housing] as we can get,” said Community Board 1 Manager Lucille Hartmann, shortly after Alma raised the number from 17 percent to 20 percent. “We recommended 35 percent, but if it is 33 percents we are not going to go crazy, but we want more than 20 percent.”
Katz agreed with the community board, and while she did not state a specific number, she said 20 percent was not sufficient. She also feared that the price for affordable units would still be too high.
“The projected rents for the proposed affordable housing would still be higher than what current Astoria residents–who will bear the brunt of the impacts of the proposed plan–could afford to pay,” she said.
Katz also said the lack of mass transit, including a proposed ferry station, needs to be further addressed in the proposal. She also stated that the public school should be constructed in the first phase of the project, rather then the fourth.
Now that the proposal has passed the City Planning Commission, it will move on to the City Council for a final vote.
Constantinides has not indicated whether he will vote for or against it–or whether he believes Alma Realty has included enough affordable units.
“We have some concerns about affordability, jobs, and adequate public transportation in the proposed development and we are working with the stakeholders to address these issues.”