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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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11 Comments

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Geo

Won and Company want to turn all of WQs into Queens Bridge Houses which is the largest public housing project in North America.

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Adrian

Donovan Richards called Elizabeth Crowley a racist last year in a tweet. But I’m still voting Crowley.

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dietmar detering

I bet Donovan and Won consider themselves “progressives” for rejecting a project that is be “too big” for their taste. Progress necessarily means change, but all the benefits this project would bring are outweighed by the large scale. I am scratching my head. Is change only good if it takes place due to government action, and bad if it comes up in the marketplace? I suggest to ask where the very high prices/rents for “market rate” housing come from. Certainly not from our politicians allowing too much market-rate housing be built. Rather, too little is being built. It’s simple: Politicians that prevent new housing construction make existing housing stock more valuable – and renting New Yorkers poorer.
“the positives were outweighed by the 2,100 market-rate units and 20-plus story towers that would alter the fabric of the neighborhood”

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anonymous

How does luxury rental stock help the average Queens resident? Did you read the monthly rent or do you ignore what you don’t want to see?

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Anon

We don’t want an influx of tax paying, law abiding people that can afford to live in area that is 10 minutes from Manhattan. We need low income housing and the crime and social problems that it always brings.

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anonymous

You mean wealthy? They moved into LIC and now they’re spreading but you try to argue working class aren’t law abiding? Your parents must be ashamed of you.

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Anon

It’s not the working class that worries me. It’s the don’t wanna working class that is constantly championed by our “progressive “ friends.

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stupid is what stupid does

Stupid people done the very same in San Francisco over the years what the stupid people are now doing in queens & that is preventing developers from building. which leads to an even bigger housing shortage which leads to the rents being more expensive because there is less inventory….are you starting to follow the pattern of what’s going to happen here….

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Arthur

The character of Astoria has already changed drastically. Ask anyone from Astoria and they will confirm this. Smoke shops on every corner making it weed capital of WQs, outside dining on every major ave, traffic jams everywhere, luxury housing in what used to be small middle class home areas, shootings every other week, noise, dirt, homeless and rats on the streets..i cld go on forever.

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Gardens Watcher

How come this project “feels out of character with the surrounding area?” He approved the large housing project adjacent to Sunnyside Gardens and it was also out of character with the neighborhood.

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Anonymous

Richardson voted for The Barnett Avenue Project despite the community’s disagreement.

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