“Hey hey, ho ho, this building’s got to go,” rang out through Astoria last Saturday morning as residents protested two proposed eight-story buildings whose construction was not opposed by Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria).
The councilman had implied that he would vote in favor of the buildings, located between 45th and 46th streets north of the Grand Central Parkway — and later did. One Astoria resident organized a group rally in front of the offices of three elected officials to protest their development.
“This is our community,” said Rudy Sarchese, president of the Astoria Homeowners, Tenants and Business Civic Association. “We should have a say in what goes up.”
Approximately 20 residents showed up in front of 22-61 45 St., the proposed site for one of the buildings, for the rally. Residents who participated were provided bus transportation to the offices of the elected officials, where they held up homemade signs and chanted in opposition of the buildings.
“The people who are advocating for this don’t even live in the neighborhood,” said resident Marie Brooks. “They’re in White Plains and other areas and they have no investment in our community.”
The first stop was at the office of Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) followed by those of state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Constantinides.
The turnout wasn’t as big as Sarchese would have liked, but the neighborhood heard the ralliers’ cries of opposition, despite the absence of the three officials.
“We sent out 2,000 fliers,” said an Astoria resident who wished to only be called Peter. “If only 20 to 30 people show up, it’s such a shame.”
The lack of support could possibly be attributed to the 10:30 a.m. Saturday start because in the past, Sarchese and Co. had a lot more support. Last fall, he said, more than 300 residents showed up to oppose the redevelopment at a Community Board 1 meeting.
At the meeting, Sarchese presented a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures opposing the project but the board would not take it into consideration. According to Sarchese, some residents couldn’t even get into the room to hear the presentation or to vote.
When discussing the agenda of the community board, Sarchese made the correlation between the buildings and the upcoming Queens borough president elections, in which Constantinides is a candidate.
“If Constantinides says no, the project stops, but he’s not doing that,” said Sarchese, in front of the councilman’s office. “We spoke with him many times and the last thing he said was he can do nothing and that he’ll vote in favor of it. He’s going to run for borough president and we’re going to vote against him because if the whole community stops supporting him, he has no chance.”
Constantinides did vote in favor of the redevelopment. Two votes took place Tuesday afternoon, votes that would change the zoning structure of the development area, Resolutions 1252 and 1253. Both were approved by a 46-0 vote.
The protester named Peter best brought to light the main conflict opponents believe the buildings will bring. He thinks adding two new structures that tower over small houses will start a chain reaction that creates opportunities for other developments to take over the neighborhood.
“I’ve been living in Astoria nearly all my life,” said Peter. “It’s mostly been one- and two-family houses. These buildings will set a precedent and open the doors for more buildings like these. This will change the landscape of Astoria.”
“We’re not being unreasonable,” said Plinia Sarchese, Rudy’s daughter-in-law. Her father-in-law and the other residents were in fact willing to compromise with the developers.
Last month, the elder Sarchese sent letters to Constantinides, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, Bronx) and state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst). In those letters, Sarchese proposed that the developers scale back the buildings to no more than four floors and asks officials not to approve the project if there are more than four.
The letters seemed to have gained no traction as it appears the redevelopment is moving forward for now.