The vote marks the first major milestone in the city land use process for the proposed $2 billion project, known as “Innovation QNS,” which would erect at least a dozen towers containing offices, retail space and 2,845 apartments.
A Western Queens community board voted Tuesday to reject a developer’s plan to turn a five-block commercial stretch of southeast Astoria into a new 3,000-unit mixed-use neighborhood, citing their concerns over affordability and the impact on local infrastructure.
In a 24-8 vote, Queens Community Board 1 disapproved the plan to rezone a commercial and manufacturing district bound by 37th Street to the east, Northern Boulevard to the west, 35th Avenue to the north and 36th Avenue to the south. Following a lengthy debate, the members agreed to include recommendations on the number of affordable apartments, the impact on local transit, the locations of greenspaces and the proposed heights of a dozen planned towers in a letter.
The vote marks the first major milestone in the city land use process for the proposed $2 billion project, known as “Innovation QNS,” put forth by developers Silverstein Properties, BedRock Real Estate Partners and Kaufman Astoria Studios.
The trio of developers already own most of the land and aim to erect at least a dozen towers containing offices, retail space and 2,845 apartments, with about 700 deemed affordable for people earning a percentage of the area median income (AMI) under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. The developers have chosen Option 1 of the MIH program, which mandates that they reserve 25 percent of the units for people earning an average of 60 percent of AMI—about $56,000 for an individual and $72,000 for a family of three. They say that 300 of the income-restricted units would be priced below $1,000 a month.
“We are living in an unprecedented housing crisis in our city. We need all types of housing if we’re going to flourish,” said the developers’ land use attorney Jesse Masyr during a technical presentation to the board.
The proposed rezoning area “is lovely, but it is not highly-producing property,” Masyr added.
CB1 member Huge Ma, a tech engineer who created the TurboVax vaccine scheduling account, agreed that the city’s affordable housing crisis is “unprecedented,” but said the current proposal would not do enough to address the need for more income-restricted apartments.
“While I do agree that dense, transit-adjacent housing is how we get out of this crisis, I struggle to vote for a development that provides us the bare minimum 25 percent affordability,” said Ma, who voted to reject the project.
Following a question and answer session with board members, several members of the public sounded off on the proposal, with most describing their opposition.
“Despite calls for more deeply affordable housing, these deep-pocketed developers have refused to commit any more than the bare minimum affordability required,” said Astoria resident Amy Kenyan. “Upzoning is a gift so let’s demand more from it.”
Others said the developer had not meaningfully engaged residents, especially non-English-speaking immigrants in the area. Organizer Farihah Akhtar from the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) said she and her colleagues had talked with hundreds of neighbors living within a mile of the project and found that few had heard of Innovation Qns.
Sam Goldstein, a spokesperson for the development trio, said they welcomed the latest feedback from the board members and the public.
“We’re glad to receive that input even as we continue to make the case that New York City—perhaps now more than ever—needs this $2 billion private investment that will create urgently needed mixed-income homes and 5,400 jobs, while generating hundreds of millions of dollars to support infrastructure, public safety, and education,” Goldstein said.
The developers and their supporters have pointed out that the plan also includes 100,000 square feet of space for community-based organizatons like the Floating Hospital and LGBTQ Center, as well as privately-owned parks that will be open for public use.
Outside the building, opponents of the plan, including State Senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez, rallied against the rezoning. Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, another outspoken critic of the project, described his opposition in a tweet Tuesday night.
“My opposition does not stem from its proposed density, nor any question of shadows—it is entirely because of the absolute paucity of affordable housing within this proposal,” Mamdani said.
The vote comes a month after Community Board 1’s Land Use Committee first voted against the project, as the Queens Eagle reported. In response to the committee’s concerns, the developers agreed to eliminate a 16-story tower at the corner of 35th Avenue and 41st Street, reduce the heights of three other buildings and increase heights of towers near Northern Boulevard.
Veteran CB1 member George Alexiou voted to reject the project, but highlighted the board’s advisory role.
“Whatever we are going to vote over here, they go to the City Council [and] they make the decision and that’s a fact,” he said.
Indeed, as the land use process unfolds, the most important opinion is likely that of Councilmember Julie Won, because the full Council tends to defer to the local member on rezoning matters. While the district’s former councilmember, Jimmy Van Bramer, announced his opposition to the plan a day after it was introduced, Won has not taken a decisive public stance.
She told City Limits she was continuing to gather opinions from constituents. On Tuesday night, she retweeted Mamdani’s calls for deeper affordable housing. “We are living amidst a housing crisis, an affordability crisis to be precise,” she said.
In a March letter to the developers, Won urged them to improve community engagement and commission a racial impact study to determine the potential for displacement. A new city law that forces all applicants to undergo a racial impact study as part of the Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) only applies to plans submitted after June 1—two months after Silverstein and their partners certified their proposal with the City Planning Commission.
The report focused on demographics across Astoria—whiter and wealthier on average than the rest of Queens—and found that the project, with its 711 income-restricted units, would be “broadly beneficial for housing affordability.” But opponents of the plan point out that people living around the proposed rezoning area tend to be working class immigrants and low-income residents who could not afford most of the income-restricted units proposed.
“When you look at what the AMI is for Ravenswood or for Queensbridge or for that area, it’s significantly below any qualifying income,” said Housing Committee Chair Evie Hantzopolous. “So zero units will be built for your average NYCHA person. Zero units will be built for anyone who is under 30 percent AMI.”
The setback for the Innovation QNS team follows another developer’s decision to pull an application to rezone a stretch of West 145th Street in Harlem after the local community board and Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan opposed the project.
The Innovation QNS application now awaits an advisory recommendation from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the next phase of ULURP.. In a March statement to the Queens Eagle, Richards said he agreed with Won’s demands for more community outreach.
He has received some campaign contributions from the developers pushing the Innovation QNS project, including a $700 contribution from Silverstein Properties Chair Larry Silverstein during his 2020 run for borough president, and three payments of $320 each from Kaufman Astoria Studios executives Tracy Capune and Hal Rosenbluth.
Borough Hall spokesperson Chris Barca said Richards “is deeply proud of his record when it comes to affordability.”
“As with every other land use proposal that comes before the borough president, he will carefully review the merits of the project—such as affordability, job creation, union labor and community benefits—as well as testimony from members of the public before making his recommendation,” Barca said.
Richards will hold a public hearing on the Innovation Qns proposal, Thursday, June 30.