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Queens Borough President Rejects Massive Innovation QNS Proposal, ‘Would Drastically Alter Character’ of Astoria

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards (Queens Borough President Office)

Aug. 5, 2022 By Christian Murray

The massive Innovation QNS project was rejected by Queens Borough President Thursday who said that the sheer scale of the 2,800-unit proposed development outweighed the benefits that may come from it.

Queens Borough President Donvan Richards’ rejection of the proposal represents another blow for the developers of Innovation QNS, who seek to rezone a 5-block area in the vicinity of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue. In June the development was rejected by Community Board 1 by a 24-8 vote.

The developers’ overarching plan involves creating a mixed-use district between 37th Street and Northern Boulevard, bound by 35th and 36th Avenues, which would consist of more than a dozen buildings that would range in height from eight to 27 stories—as well as two acres of green space and space for nonprofits.

The plan presented to Community Board 1 in June (Screenshot)

The developers—consisting of Silverstein Properties, Kaufman Astoria Studios and BedRock Real Estate Partners– would include 711 affordable units for people who make an average of 60 percent Area Median Income ($80,000 for a family of four), representing 25 percent of the units in the development.

“The applicant has presented many positives… that, on their own, would be exceptional,” Richards wrote, referring to the affordable housing, open space and the 100,000 square feet of community facility space that would be available for local nonprofits.

However, Richards said the positives were outweighed by the 2,100 market-rate units and 20-plus story towers that would alter the fabric of the neighborhood.

Richards said that the development would “drastically” change the character of the district since it would lead to an influx of high-income tenants– thereby altering the demographics and potentially pricing out current residents.

Richards said that local residents and the community made it clear that the “project feels out of character with the surrounding area” and that the amount of affordable housing was not enough.

The borough president pointed to the development team’s Racial Equity Report, where it was estimated that the rents on the non-income restricted units would be from $2,430 on the low end to $5,190 on the high end. He said that the median gross rent in the community board district is $1,686

Unit prices according to the Innovation QNS Racial Equity Report. The 711 affordable units are at an average AMI of 60 percent, hence the different affordable housing income brackets.

The borough president did put forward some suggestions that he said would make the plan more plausible. These included allocating 50 percent of the units for affordable housing as well as offering more units to individuals or families earning 30 percent AMI ($40,000 for a family of four).

Richards said the developers “presented a possibility of expanding the lowest AMI level to 30 percent” and stated that they would continue conversations regarding additional affordable units. No firm numbers were disclosed.

He said that the heights of the buildings need to be lowered. The borough president said the scale needed to be reduced most along 35th Avenue and midblock along 38th Street, across the street from Playground XXXV on Steinway Street.

Site Map (Innovation QNS)

The borough president and Community Board’s rejections are advisory but are likely to have a significant impact on whether the project is approved.

The plan will now go before the City Planning Commission, which will have 60 days to vote on it. While the CPC vote is binding, it is unlikely to reject the application outright.

The decision will ultimately come down to a vote in city council—and local councilmember Julie Won will likely to determine its fate, since the council typically votes in accordance with the wishes of the local representative.

She has shown very little enthusiasm for the project and has even praised the critics of the project who played a role in Community Board 1 rejecting the proposal.

Won released a statement Friday following Richards’ “no” vote. She said that the “developers failed to meet the community’s call for deep affordability.”

Won said that most residents in the district would not be able afford the market rate units. “The majority of residents in the area cannot afford to pay $2,430 to $5,190 in rent,” she said.

“Securing more affordable housing for this district is my top priority, and we will use the borough president’s recommendations and our own land use guidelines we released earlier this week to meet that goal.”

Her guidelines call on developers to offer deeply affordable units, combat displacement and invest in public infrastructure, among many other requirements.

The developers said they were disappointed by Richards’ rejection but plan to work with Won.

“The Innovation QNS development team is disappointed that despite significant progress in addressing the Borough President’s concerns – including agreeing to a substantial increase in the number of affordable homes and to deliver a meaningful number of those homes at the deeply affordable “extremely low-income” band – we were unable to win his support in advance of his recommendation.”

“We’re proud of the plan for Innovation QNS – a $2 billion investment in creating affordable homes; family-sustaining jobs; open space; support for small businesses, working families and immigrant communities; and hundreds of millions of dollars in public revenue all at a time when it is needed most – and look forward to refining the plan further in collaboration with Council Member Won to ensure it addresses her concerns.”

Innovation QNS Large Scale … by Queens Post

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6 Comments

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Taino Boriqua Forever

The Borough Presidenf has no say in this and no say in just about anything except selling the Redbird in front of borough hall. This deal will happen in one form or another as they have already assembled many of the parcels. Notice not many words from Giannaris on this. NY developers know how thick the envelope needs to be. Unlike Amazon. Won will probably come around to some version of the deal when the envelope gets thick enough. Van Bramer really ought to hold a class on bagman etiquette for these newbies. If Hochul was the council member here she’d milk this for at least a few hundred large based on ber track record.

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Brian Godfrey

Why not just build some more city housing (projects) and make them happy..and build these new buildings in other parts of the Country where it is welcome and people want to live like humans.

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DINO PAVLOU

I lived in Astoria for 20 years and love it, until they allowed builders to indiscriminately destroy the quality of life in Astoria. Bravo to Queens Borough President Richards for his concerns and care for the people of Queens.

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Anonymous

Did those disgusting hookah bars and lowlife night clubs on Steinway change Astoria’s CHARACTER DRASTICALLY? They have been providing late night excitement for Astoria residents by causing shootings, stabbings, big fights, muggins… Looks like you don’t need fair IQ to be the BP of Queens.

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Dana

“Developers” destroy neighborhoods, and routinely lie. The usual scam, once Ms. Won approves, revisions of plan, buildings reach new heights,
The footprint/plan grossly removes air movement and sunlight from the surrounding low rise neighborhoods.
Look at Queens West, with its own “authority,” when, after approval by NY State, smoothly changed every height blueprint but two, , so that a wall of twenty story to 30 story expense rental hi rises line the east river of Queens, Long Island City. The neighborhoods be damned, when developers get their first in.

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