NEW YORK – Queens Borough President Melinda Katz presided over an intense but civil hearing on July 17 on a major residential real estate development project in Northwest Queens called Astoria Cove.
2030 Astoria Developers, a group of investors led by Alma Realty, proposes to build five mixed-use buildings ranging in height from six to 32 stories on the shores of the East River. Efstathios (Steve) Valiotis, president Alma Realty was present at the hearing.
The speakers, who were welcomed by Katz were evenly divided pro and con, but it appeared most of those opposed would support the project if the developers adopted their recommendations.
Community groups and residents have complained that there will not be not enough affordable housing criteria among the 1700 units. The developers recently raised the percentage from 17 to 20, the statutory minimum, but activists are advocating for more.
The hearing also aired concerns about the quality of the jobs the development will create.
Katz announced that she will make her decision about whether or not to support the project by July 30, and said the City Planning commission will then deliberate. A City Council vote is expected within a few months.
The Borough President occasionally interrupted the long list of speakers to ask questions, such as whether the affordable housing units will be permanent – she was told they will be – and after emphasizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s commitment to creating more affordable housing, she described meetings she and her staff has had with concerned groups.
She summarized the approval process to date, including last month’s meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), which unanimously rejected the project but with conditions, 47 in total, that included a raise in affordable apartments from 20 percent of the project to 35 percent.
Katz said “I assume that if the conditions are satisfied the Community Board will be satisfied,” and noted of the “the point is we need to have safe, good development.”
She said it could become the signature project of New York, but she knows it will generate attention and tension and discussion “as it should,” right up to the City Council vote.
The concerns of community and other interest groups were addressed if not completely allayed by attorney Howard Weiss of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, who represents the developers.
Jay Valgoria, the principal of the Studio V architectural group which designed the project, described four years of community outreach and said they tried to address each need that came up. He made a slide presentation that was well received even by groups that voiced other concerns.
He explained that the site is currently zoned for manufacturing and is dominated by storage facilities – some speakers, like Diana Kantzoglou, who welcomes the new project, described the area as an eyesore.
Valgoria is especially dedicated to the creation of parks and park-like environment for the entire waterfront and noted that they have hired world class landscape architects for the project.
He said the tree-lined shore road area is twice as wide as the law requires and the commercial areas will include small scale commercial retailers, cafes and a supermarket local residents have asked for.
Lucille Hartmann, CB 1 district manager, spoke of the need to create “harmonious relations between new and old neighbors,” and closed by saying “it is not the intention of the Board to deny, but to represent the community and communicate the importance of our concerns,” to the relevant authorities.
Representatives and supporters of various unions made passionate cases for there to be an agreement that union labor be used and cited current disputes between Alma Realty and unions.