Queens borough president shoots down $2 billion Innovation QNS project

Innovation QNS
(Photo by Julia Moro)

The Queens borough president disapproved of the $2 billion luxury high-rise project centered around a five-block radius at the intersection of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue in Astoria on Friday, Aug. 5. 

The proposal, dubbed Innovation QNS, entered the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process back in April. After the local community board voted against the proposal, the recommendation then went to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who concurred with the local council. 

Innovation QNS would add a series of 12 buildings centered on five blocks around the intersection of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue. The development consists of 12 buildings, with eight standing at over 15 floors and the two largest at 27 floors.

Before Richards outlined his recommendation, he asked the question, “Who will benefit from the applicant’s proposed development?” 

“The applicant has faced opposition regarding the proposed development due to its sheer bulk, density and large number of market-rate units,” Richards’ report read. “The Community Board and local Astoria residents have made it clear that the project feels out of character with the surrounding area and does not offer enough affordable housing regardless of the amenities tied to the Proposed Development.”

Richards pointed out that the city faces multiple crises, including housing affordability, food insecurity, evictions and stagnating wages. 

“Blindly building more market-rate housing will not fix these long-standing, systemic issues,” Richards wrote. 

Richards did commend the positive aspects of the project, like the 100,000 square feet of community space, 711 affordable housing units and a significant increase in open space. However, he realizes that these promises don’t outweigh the detriment 2,100 market-rate units would cause.

“The influx of new residents who can afford to pay these rents, and the sheer density of the proposed 13 buildings, will drastically alter the character, demographics and housing stability of Astoria and CD1,” Richards wrote. “Again I ask, who will benefit?”

Units range from $2,430 on the lowest end to $5,190. 

Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios are the developers behind property.

Tracy Capune, vice president of Kaufman Astoria Studios said Innovation QNS will refine their plan going forward. 

“The Innovation QNS development team is disappointed that despite significant progress in addressing the borough president’s concerns — including agreeing to a substantial increase in the number of affordable homes and to deliver a meaningful number of those homes at the deeply affordable ‘extremely low-income’ band – we were unable to win his support in advance of his recommendation,” Capune said. “We’re proud of the plan for Innovation QNS — a $2 billion investment in creating affordable homes; family-sustaining jobs; open space; support for small businesses, working families and immigrant communities; and hundreds of millions of dollars in public revenue all at a time when it is needed most — and look forward to refining the plan further in collaboration with Council member [Julie] Won to ensure it addresses her concerns.”

Now that the borough president has given his recommendation, the City Planning Commission now gets to approve, modify or deny the application alongside input from the City Council. Disapprovals are final at this stage.

“Securing more affordable housing for this district is my top priority, and we will use the borough president’s recommendations and our own land use guidelines we released earlier this week to meet that goal,” Won said. “We need to make sure developers don’t ignore residents’ housing needs and I will keep pushing for transparency in the land use process.”