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Queens Chronicle

CB 1 wants more for Astoria Cove plan

Members push developers for more affordable housing and union workers

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Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jun 19, 2014.

Once again, developers find themselves bumping heads with community members on one of the biggest concerns middle- and lower-income residents have, affordable housing

Alma Realty and Studio V Architecture proposed a new development that would re-zone the area known as Astoria Cove and provide greater access to the waterfront.

“Right now, the peninsula is isolated and cut off from Astoria,” architect Jay Valgora said before hundreds of Community Board 1 members, advocacy groups, union workers and residents at the Astoria World Manor on Tuesday. “These are old, underused industrial spaces that’s a desolate eyesore. We want to bring the community to the waterfront.”

When completed, the project would consist of three buildings along the waterfront, ranging from 26- to 32-stories high; a six-story mixed-use building and a six-story elementary school.

A majority of the project, 84,000 square feet, would be dedicated to open space for public use, including a waterfront esplanade and children’s playgrounds.

Presumably, Astoria Cove would most likely resemble the recent work done in Hunters Point South, which has been widely well-received by all.

But what concerned many CB 1 members and others on Tuesday night was the lack of affordable housing that would be made available to the public and the fear that it would turn Astoria into an expensive and elite neighborhood, forcing blue-collar workers out.

“We currently have 295 affordable units out of approximately 1,700 apartments,” Valgora explained. “We are looking to increase that number.”

That adds up to about 18 percent of the units being affordable, a number many felt to be unacceptable.

“Where we are, 20 percent doesn’t even come close to what we need,” Evie Hantzopoulos of CB 1 said. “We need 25, 30, 35 percent at least.”

The packed room erupted in applause at her statement.

What’s more, the developers do not have a new number they are aiming for nor do they know when the updated number of affordable units would be made available.

“We are planning to increase it,” one developer said. “You have to trust that. We are going to be working with the city, according to the mayor’s new housing plan but we cannot provide a solid number for you right at this time.”

This infuriated attendees.

“How do you expect me to vote on a project when we don’t have all the information in front of us right now?” Hantzopoulos asked. “You’re telling us to trust you but you can’t give us a number and you don’t know when you’ll have one? I can’t vote on that.”

Many CB 1 members nodded their heads.

After a few minutes of pressure, the developers estimated that an exact number of affordable units would be available by the time the ULURP goes before the City Council.

But attendees felt that by then, it would be too late.

“Yeah, just like Willets Point and look where those people are at,” Tatiana Serris of Astoria whispered. “Un-freaking-believable. The board will have no say at that point. It will be out of their hands.”

The Corona and Flushing communities, including activists groups and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), pushed Willets Point developers, The Queens Development Group, to increase the number of affordable units in their massive plan.

The increased number was not made available until the day of the City Council vote.

Astoria Cove developers, however, were confident that the project would be well worthwhile.

“It is my belief that this could be one of the most magical, outstanding sites in New York City,” Valgora said.

While affordable housing was a principle concern, board members also fired off questions on safety, transportation, sanitation, traffic and parking.

In addition, 56 individuals representing activist groups, unions, neighborhoods or themselves, lined up to share their concerns and emphasize that a decision on a project such as Astoria Cove should not be made lightly.

“I urge Community Board 1 to ask hard questions and not roll over for promises,” John Collins, an Astoria resident and professor at Queens College, said. “As a professor who studies cities, I favor responsible development that doesn’t hurt the community.”

The hearing went on for three hours and while there were moments of high tension, there were a few speakers who said they were eager to see the beautiful green spaces and economic opportunities that the project will provide.

CB 1 will not vote on the plan until June 16 and, even then, the board’s vote is merely advisory.

The plan will also appear before Borough President Melinda Katz and the Department of City Planning, before it goes before the City Council Land Use Committee.

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