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Astoria Cove project review starts noisily

By Bill Parry

A six-month review process for the planned Astoria Cove residential complex, between 4th and 9th Streets, in Hallets Point got underway Tuesday with a sometimes raucous public hearing.

It was standing-room-only in the Astoria World Manor banquet hall as hundreds participated in the Community Board 1 special meeting.

Architect Jay Valgora, of Studio V, led a presentation on behalf of the developer, Alma Realty, showing the audience artists’ renderings of what the megaproject would look like if the plan for a five-building, mixed-use project spanning 1.7 million square feet of Hallets Point is approved.

“Today this waterfront is not accessible,” Valgora said. “It’s really not an amenity or asset for the community and we would like to tie that back in and create a wonderful extension to the community.”

In addition to 1,689 rental units, the plan promises a waterfront esplanade, a public school with 456 seats for pre-K through fifth-grade, a supermarket and 54,000 square feet of retail space.

“All that retail space will make the neighborhood safer and provide jobs,” Valgora said. “There’s room for banks, hardware stores, little cafes and restaurants along a continuous greenway along the waterfront.”

Project counsel Howard Weiss touched on the transportation issue when he promised shuttle bus service to the subway.

“And if the city expands ferry service, there will be space for a terminal on the waterfront,” Weiss said, eliciting the evening’s first applause.

When Weiss arrived at the number of affordable housing units the project will include, the audience paid rapt attention. The project currently plans for 295 affordable units, but Weiss said the developer is in talks with City Planning to expand that number.

But the information will not be available for CB 1’s decision June 17.

Community board members asked questions regarding safety, handicap accessibility, parking and other issues. Then it was time for the public to speak.

A total of 56 residents had signed up for the chance to make their points in a three-minute presentation.

Jack Friedman, of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said, “The economic impact can be profound. The opportunity this provides for Queens cannot be ignored.”

The other speakers were not as supportive, however.

“We might be middle class, but we’re not idiots and we can see the writing on the wall,” resident Tyler Ocon said. “Without the originally promised affordable housing units and a guarantee that these units will remain forever affordable, this project will be the first gust of wind that shifts Astoria’s middle and working class up the East River.”

Local artist Luanne Rozran raised the spectre of blocked river views with three waterfront towers as tall as 32 stories.

“For many of us, that view is the explanation of why we live here,” Rozran said, later adding that the views give her inspiration for her paintings. “There’s no reason for the towers to be 30 stories, obliterating our views simply because some millionaire wants a penthouse way up high,” she said after her presentation was stopped for going over the time limit.

When resident Jeannie Ortiz spoke of improper asbestos abatement by a company being investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she was told her allotted time was up.

When she refused to sit down, she was escorted from the podium by security.

“I feel like they shut me down because they didn’t like what I had to say,” she said later in a hallway.

If the community board approves, the proposal moves to the borough president and eventually to the City Council in the fall. Astoria Cove would be built in four phases over 10 years if the project is approved.

Reach Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538

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