Many of the union workers and affordable housing activists who have rallied against the Astoria Cove development plan in recent weeks took to Borough Hall en mass as the controversial proposal came before Borough President Melinda Katz last Thursday.
One by one, those opposed to the plan in its present state called on Alma Realty to provide guarantees that the project will provide well-paying, safe construction jobs with benefits, in addition to demanding a higher number of affordable housing units than Alma laid out in its most recent proposal to Community Board 1 last month.
James Taylor, one of the approximately two dozen members of Build Up NYC, an advocacy group for responsible development, crammed into a conference room, told Katz of his previous professional experience with Alma.
Taylor said the realty company took over the Woodside One apartment complex he worked at in 2009 and slashed his and his co-workers’ wages and benefits, and he hopes such a business practice doesn’t happen to potential future Astoria Cove workers.
“Alma Realty needs to do the right thing by the communities where they build and operate buildings,” Taylor said. “We do not need to go backwards by allowing this company to go forward with this project without making a commitment to doing the right thing for hardworking people and their families.”
When it comes to affordable housing, fellow Build Up NYC member John Tritt, an Astoria resident, called on Alma to increase the number of planned affordable housing units to loud applause.
“Alma has proposed that only 17 percent of the units be affordable,” Tritt said. “The community needs more.”
Howard Weiss, the attorney for Alma, said plans for Astoria Cove have been amended to increase the number of affordable housing units from 295 to 345, just under 20 percent of the total number of dwellings planned for the area and the original number of units listed in the plans prior to its presentation to CB 1.
Multiple residents who live in close vicinity to the potential development site spoke in favor of the plan, as did a representative from the Queens Chamber of Commerce, who read a statement from Executive Director Jack Friedman.
“The Queens Chamber of Commerce believes the proposed development for Astoria Cove will allow future residents of Astoria and Western Queens to lead a high quality of life and add to Queens’ burgeoning economy,” Friedman said. “This plan also helps bring jobs to Queens now and in the future.”
Astoria resident Giuseppe Vaccaro, whose family has lived in the immediate area since 1896, was very blunt in describing Astoria Cove’s appearance today and what it could look like if the project is approved.
“If you want it to look like crap, then leave it the way it is. On Astoria Boulevard, half of the stores are vacant,” Vaccaro said. “No one wants to go down there because there’s no reason for them to go down there. With these projects going in, people will say ‘Hey, let me go open a store there.’ If you don’t build it, they’re not going to come.”
Katz said she will render a decision on the project by July 30. The plan will also appear before the Department of City Planning, before it goes before the City Council Land Use Committee.