NEW YORK – The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises of the New York City Council sent the Astoria Cove real estate development project in Western Queens back to the drawing board – in the economic sense – after a hearing on October 20 – one of the last steps in the City’s approval process.
Astoria Cove will be is the first development that is subject Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary housing rules which call for projects that require a zoning change to make of 20 percent of its units permanently affordable.
Despite an architectural design that promises to be a welcome addition to the New York City waterfront, the hearing revealed substantial concerns remain over the level of affordable housing and the quality of jobs it will generate, transportation, and the safety of its construction process.
Costa Constantinides, Astoria’s new City Councilman, took the lead in expressing the virtually unanimous calls for changes in the project by 2030 Astoria Developers LLC, which includes among its main investors Astoria’s Alma Realty, whose owner is Efstathios Valiotis.
Constantinides and developer John Maurodis, reportedly childhood friends in Astoria, clashed on matters like the definition of affordability and the number of affordable units that will actually be built.
City Council members and top city officials like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz weighed in with their opposition and expressed their appreciation for the way Constantinides was handling the matter, and emphasized that the project will be reviewed again after the developers resume negotiations with him.
The project is expected to be brought before the subcommittee again the week of Thanksgiving.
Council Member Costa Constantinides said in his opening statement at the hearing, “Over the last several months Community Board 1 and the Queens Borough President voiced their concerns about this development. Today the public was given the opportunity to be heard on the Astoria Cove proposal. It is clear that the framework for 21st century development dictates that when public resources are used for a project, the community must benefit as a result. As the process moves toward our November vote, we will work with the developer to provide ample affordable housing, good jobs both during and after the construction process, and dramatically increase public transportation options on and off of the peninsula.”
A key part of the discussion revolved around the feeling of obligation the public officials felt the developers should have to towards the housing needs of the citizens of New York.
The developer’s representatives repeatedly voiced the view that the number of affordable housing units they are promising – 345 out of 1723 or 20 percent, is appropriate given that they are not receiving subsidies.
They are however, receiving tax abatement and there were audible gasps in the council chamber at the developers’ response to a question about how long the project’s tax exemptions would last: “15-20 years.”
The members of the City Council insisted that the tax abatement constituted a subsidy, but 2030 Astoria Developers LLC disagreed, saying it did not offset construction costs. Since was attached only to the costs of the below-market apartments, they said it was not a building subsidy.
Council members and community groups whose testimony followed the presentations of the developers and other interested City officials were most concerned about the affordability numbers.
The project’s affordable housing units would rent for $2,700 a month for a one bedroom apartment, and $3,800 for a three bedroom unit.
Constantinides said “Not only is this not affordable, but these rates are actually above market for the vast majority of my community…Until Astoria Cove is made affordable for actual Astorians, I cannot support this project.”
There was another issue in the background. Alma Realty was recently condemned by elected officials for its decision to convert the majority of rent stabilized apartments at its Brooklyn Jewish Hospital apartment complex to market rate value.