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Astoria Cove’s next step

By Bill Parry

When the developers of Astoria Cove went before the City Planning Commission Wednesday, they presented modified plans for the giant 1,723-unit apartment complex they hope to build on Hallets Cove, but they did not budge on the number of units of affordable housing they are planning.

Both the borough president and Community Board 1 refused to support the plan during the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, citing the lack of units they deem necessary. The investor team, 2030 Astoria Developers LLC, which includes Alma Realty, is holding to its plans for 345 units of affordable housing, 20 percent of the project’s total.

Of the 22 speakers who testified at the packed hearing, half of them raised concerns about the plan, including Maritza Silva-Farrell from Align and Real Affordability, who called for the number of units to be boosted to 50 percent,

Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said, “With nearly half of all city residents today living near the poverty line, anything less than 50 percent real affordability in new housing will fail to address the scope and severity of the growing inequality crisis. If Astoria Cove becomes just another glitzy playground for the wealthy elite, it will be a huge step backward, the opposite of progress.”

Instead of raising the number of affordable units, 2030 Astoria Developers LLC emphasized its plan for more transit infrastructure. The attorney for the group, the project’s counsel, Howard Weiss, talked of building a new ferry terminal should the city decide to extend ferry service to Hallets Cove. He added that Astoria Cove would run shuttle buses to area subway stations and the group is in discussions with the Transit Authority about increased bus service.

The shift in focus apparently came after Borough President Melinda Katz recommended disapproval of the Astoria Cove ULURP applications July 29. In her recommendations, Katz indicated that she was concerned about the strain the project would put on Astoria’s transit links when she wrote, “Mass transit service for this area is already overburdened. Area residents report that the nearest subway station is operating above capacity. It is also reported by area residents that the existing bus service does not run frequently enough to meet the current transport needs.”

Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing included several members of the labor advocacy group Build Up NYC who warned about unsafe conditions due to hazardous materials on the long-used industrial site.

“Alma’s own environmental study reveals the need to thoroughly investigate for a variety of toxic materials including asbestos, lead and PCBs,” John Tritt said. “This is particularly important since the project is in a flood zone and a school is being part of the development.”

Weiss promised to work with the commission on all their requests.

“Astoria Cove would be the crown jewel in the reclamation of the Queens waterfront,” he said. “It bears emphasis that the recommendations that you’ve received from the community board and the borough president do not object to the essential elements of this project.”

While CB 1 and the borough president’s findings are advisory and non-binding, the City Planning Commission can spike the entire project or it can approve the proposal and send it to the City Council for final approval this fall.

After the hearing was over, Weiss said, “there were concerns expressed to the commission but no outright opposition to the project. All in all the hearing went as expected and fairly well for us.”

The commission is not expected to rule on the matter until late September.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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