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Council Subcommittee Approves Innovation QNS, Number of Affordable Units Increased

A city council subcommittee voted 7-0 in favor of the Innovation QNS rezoning application that would bring approximately 3,200 units to a 5-block area in Astoria. Rendering of 35th Avenue (Courtesy of ODA New York)

Nov. 17, 2022 By Christian Murray

A city council subcommittee voted in support of the massive Innovation QNS development Thursday, with the project slated to go before the full city council next week for a vote that will determine its fate.

The City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Finance voted 7-0 in support of the rezoning, representing a significant step for the developers who plan to construct a 12 building, 3,000-unit project spread across 5 blocks in the vicinity of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue.

The developers have pledged to build 1,436 of the units as affordable, according to Council Member Julie Won, with 500 of those units offered to New Yorkers who earn up to 30 percent of the Area Median Income– around $28,020 a year for an individual or $40,020 a year for a family of four.

The 1,436 units is about 300 more than the 1,100 that had been pledged earlier this month, and more than double the original plan of 711.

The developers have made adjustments to the plans to accommodate an increase in the number of units, resulting in a reduction in the amount of office and community facility space. Nearly 3,200 dwelling units are part of the proposed project, higher than the 2,800 units initially proposed.

Won has been resistant to the project from the get-go saying that it does not provide enough affordable housing. She has advocated for 55 percent of the units in the development to be affordable, with 40 percent of them privately financed by developers Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios. The other 15 percent would be funded by city and state subsidies.

The developers initially said that 25 percent of the units would be affordable, with the remainder being market rate. The 25 percent number represented the minimum required by the city.

Councilmember Julie Won testifying at the Committee on Zoning and Franchises hearing on Oct. 18 about Innovation QNS (Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

Won, who wields significant power in the rezoning process since the development would be in her district, recognized that she has made progress with the developers. The negotiations continue, with the project going before the land use committee on Monday, and—if approved by the committee—it will go before the council for a full vote on Tuesday.

Won’s vote is pivotal, since traditionally the council votes in lockstep with the councilmember who represents the district where a development is proposed. The development, however, does have the support of Mayor Eric Adams who has called for it to be approved.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has also been a strong advocate for the project. He supported the project when the number of affordable units being offered was increased beyond the 25 percent minimum threshold.

“This [subcommittee] vote is only a preliminary approval of this project,” Won said in a statement, indicating that the fate of the project is far from settled. “We’ve been negotiating daily to secure unprecedented levels of affordability for my immigrant and working-class community. Our wins include: 1,436 permanently affordable units, double the developers’ original offer; 500 units at 30 percent AMI; 157 units for our unhoused neighbors that will also cover the difference between the voucher subsidy and market rate rent; and a $2 million anti-displacement and anti-tenant-harassment fund that will provide legal representation to renters in the project area,” Won said.

“I am diligently finalizing negotiations for commitments from the developer and the Mayoral administration. As the council member, I will utilize every accountability measure to ensure that our community wins are actualized.”

The developers say that the project would more than triple the number of deeply affordable units (units set aside for those earning up to 30 percent AMI) that have been built in the area in the past eight years. Since 2014, there have been 102 deeply affordable homes built in the area represented by Community Board 1. Innovation QNS would bring 500 additional deeply affordable homes.

The rendering presented to Community Board 1 (Screenshot)

The development would go up on land primarily used for warehouse space, big box stores and private parking lots. The area also includes a P.C. Richard store and the Regal UA Kaufman Astoria movie theater, which would be demolished and rebuilt on a neighboring block as part of the project.

Advocates for the project include labor union representatives, as well as local business and non-profit leaders. A rally was held on the steps of city hall by two large labor unions in support of the project on Oct. 18—the day of the public hearing about the proposal. The rally was attended by representatives of 32BJ SEIU and Laborers Local 79 as well as Richards and Bishop Mitchell Taylor, leader of the non-profit organization Urban Upbound.

Meanwhile, a rally in opposition to the project was led by Won that same morning, who was joined on the steps of city hall by public advocate Jumaane Williams, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and local groups.

Today’s vote also comes the day after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued a statement on the development. Ocasio-Cortez, who didn’t expressly say whether she supported it or not, indicated that she supports Won’s efforts in seeking more affordable housing.

“I support Astoria community members in their push that any new housing development be majority affordable,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “We must move forward with a transformative vision of affordability in New York that makes major, strategic, and bold public commitments to housing.”


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