Astoria Community Board votes against $2 billion Innovation QNS development

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Innovation QNS protestors and supporters shout back and forth outside the Astoria World Manor before Community Board One voted against the development Tuesday night, June 21. (Photo courtesy of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities)

In a late meeting Tuesday night, June 21, Community Board 1 officially decided not to recommend the city approve Innovation QNS, the $2 billion project which would add a set of 12 luxury high-rise buildings centered on five blocks around the intersection of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue.

This vote marks an end to the second step of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) — a required public review process. Now that Community Board 1 voted to deny the development, the Queens borough president will have a chance to submit recommendations as well. 

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the mayor. 

The community board mentioned during deliberations Tuesday night that this development would be historic for Astoria, changing the economic makeup of the neighborhood for years to come. 

Land Use Committee Chairperson Elizabeth Erion laid out the reasons why this project concerned her and other board members.

“This is unprecedented in this community district and we as a board over the years have supported large-scale developments, as long as the development is appropriate, it is contextual and it isn’t overbearing to the local community,” Erion said. “It’s really an inappropriate development for the community.”

A large majority of the board expressed concerns over the economic impacts of the over 2,000 market-rate apartments, the height of the buildings and the impact on the community’s infrastructure due to an influx of residents. 

Erion also said that the proposed 200,000 square feet of retail space would compete with Steinway Street, negatively impacting the local businesses. 

Should the city approve Innovation QNS, the project would add nearly 3,000 mixed-income apartments, including 725 permanently affordable and senior apartments. More than 300 units will be available for under $1,000 a month. 

There will also be nearly two acres of land dedicated to public open space maintained by the developers. 

Per their restrictive declaration, developers reassured locals that they are required to follow through on these community-oriented projects — like open space and affordable housing. Future owners of the property would also have to maintain these aspects of the development, should it be sold down the line.

Tuesday night’s meeting heard testimony from about 100 residents — for nearly two hours — many of whom opposed the project. 

Dannelly Rodriguez, a lifelong Astoria resident, said that Innovation QNS will likely force local families to move after the over 2,000 market-rate apartments increase rents in the surrounding area. 

“My entire life, two things have been going up in Astoria — the rent and luxury buildings,” Rodriguez said. “This is a luxury project that is tasked with doing the same thing that has been done to me and my family — displace us from our home. This project does not love our community. We want 100% affordable housing.”

Supporters of the project are thinking about the 1,700 permanent jobs and nearly 4,000 construction jobs that will last over 10 years; others just want any affordable housing they can get. 

Local New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents from Astoria Houses or Queensbridge Houses said that Astoria needs to embrace change. 

“We know we need housing. We know we need jobs,” said one longtime Queensbridge Houses resident. “Let’s get together and let’s make it happen.”

Another resident, Omar, has lived in Astoria for 18 years. He mentioned that his neighborhood is not what it was 20 years ago and the community can’t be scared of inevitable change. 

“Nothing in Astoria has been the way it was when you came here and I came here. If we don’t invest in Astoria, we will lose Astoria,” Omar said. “You’re saying no to 700 affordable apartments, people coming in and spending money in Astoria, revitalizing Astoria.”

A spokesperson for Innovation QNS said that they appreciate all the feedback they have received during this process.

“The city’s formal review process is designed to gather input from the public, and we’re glad to receive that input even as we continue to make the case that New York City – perhaps now more than ever – needs this $2 billion private investment that will create urgently needed mixed-income homes and 5,400 jobs while generating hundreds of millions of dollars to support infrastructure, public safety and education,” said an Innovation QNS spokesperson.

Innovation QNS is scheduled to come before the borough president at the upcoming Land Use Public Hearing on Thursday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. via Zoom.