July 31, 2014 By Michael Florio
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz gave the thumbs down today to the developer of the massive Astoria Cove apartment complex.
Katz, who disapproved of Alma Realty’s application for a series of zoning change, was doubtful that the mass transit system could handle the influx of hundreds of new residents and claimed that the development would overwhelm traffic. Most of all, she said the number of units that have been set aside for affordable housing was insufficient.
Katz’ opinion is not binding and is merely advisory. However, it is taken extremely seriously when the plan is reviewed by the City Planning Commission and, ultimately, the city council, which must put it up for a vote. The City Planning Commission and the City Council have the power to nix the proposal.
While Katz liked the overall concept of the plan—which calls for five buildings ranging in height from six to 32 stories– she said it did not address several issues that the community had raised.
“The proposed redevelopment of the Astoria Cove site would revitalize an otherwise underutilized Queens waterfront,” Katz wrote. However, she noted that hundreds of residents would be coming to the area and that many existing services could be overwhelmed.
Katz said she wanted the percentage of units set aside for affordable housing to be raised. She said Alma Realty’s proposal to set aside 20% of the 1,723 rental units was too low. She did not, however, specify a number.
Furthermore, Katz was concerned that even the prices for the affordable apartments would be too high. “The projected rents for the proposed affordable housing would still be higher than what current local Astoria residents, who will bear the brunt of the impacts of the proposed project, could afford to pay.”
Katz said that the development would be located in an area that is serviced by a limited street network. “The traffic impacts would be particularly hard felt by the existing and new community.”
The lack of mass transit was a big issue for Katz, which she said needed to be addressed as the project moves forward. She cited the already overcrowded subway stations and the infrequent bus service as a concern. She said a ferry service must also be considered.
The borough president also said that a public school should be constructed in the first phase of development– as opposed to the fourth phase as proposed–to meet the existing shortage of seats in School District 30.
She also wants assurances that the proposed supermarket would provide residents with high quality fresh food .
However, Howard Weiss, the attorney for Alma Realty, said that the developer has already addressed most of Katz’ concerns.
He also said that some of Katz’ concerns are beyond the control of the developer. For instance, Weiss said Alma has applied for a terminal to provide ferry service and is waiting to hear back from the city. The same goes for the school. The land has been donated and it is up to the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education to decide how to move forward.