City Planning Commission approves controversial $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria

Innovation QNS Astoria
The City Planning Commission votes to approve the controversial $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria. (Courtesy of OCA Architecture)

The City Planning Commission gave the green light for the massive $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Commissioners voted 10-3 to approve the proposal, which would bring 2,800 apartments, 700 of them permanently affordable, as well as space for the arts, community facility space, offices, public green space and more to Astoria.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards disapproved of the project just last month, but his ruling was advisory. The CPC ruling is binding, and moves the project forward in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application process.

“New York City is in the throes of a housing crisis, with Astoria families feeling that crush harder than most, but we have an incredible opportunity before us to reverse this tragic trend. I stand by my recommendation that certain commitments be made by the Innovation QNS development team to meet this moment, such as significantly increasing the number of affordable housing units and expanding the lowest affordable income band to those earning 30% of the area median income,” Richards said.

“I have a deep respect for the City Planning Commission and its work, and I am hopeful today’s vote will lead to a healthy dialogue and community-first solutions as Innovation QNS proceeds to the City Council,” he continued. “I remain in close contact with the developers, my fellow elected officials, and all our community stakeholders, and will continue to push for true community-first solutions on the issues of affordability and equity.”

The project will now go to the City Council in the coming weeks where members historically follow the lead of the representative of the area, which would be Councilwoman Julie Won, who has been critical of the Innovation QNS project since she took office in January.

“The City Planning Commission chose to rubber stamp this plan without significant commitment to deep affordability to meet the community’s needs for affordable housing,” Won said. The developers continue to disregard the community’s voice, choosing to move forward with a project that received major backlash at town halls this spring and the overwhelming disapproval of Queens Community Board 1. I have requested for the development team to return to the community again with modifications and we will not settle for a plan that is below 50% affordable.”

Won added that 70% of renters in the area are already rent-burdened or severely rent-burdened, with a current average rent of around $1,800. With approximately 54,000 eviction cases filed in the city this year alone, Won said she “cannot in good conscience add more market-rate luxury housing” in her district where it continues to produce an upward trend in rising rents.

“The developers are still offering only the minimum of 25% affordable apartments, calling on the city to utilize public dollars to provide for additional affordability,” Won said. “My apprehension for this project remains and I have serious concerns that this project will displace many immigrant and working-class residents that call this part of Astoria home, as landowners worry about their profit margins.”

In his remarks prior to Wednesday’s vote, City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick said the five-block development would bring thousands of jobs across a range of sectors, but it was the promise of affordable housing that was the difference maker to him.

“The affordable housing component of this project — that will be created without public subsidy — would be considered the largest privately financed affordable housing project in Queens in generations,” Garodnick said. “At a time when our housing crisis is more pronounced than ever, that is a big deal and a big opportunity to take the pressure off the rents in this and surrounding communities.”

Innovation QNS Astoria
A protest broke out during the early stages of reviewing Innovation QNS. (Photo by Julia Moro)

In casting one of the three dissenting votes against the Innovation QNS proposal, Commissioner Leah Goodridge said the amount of affordable housing promised by the developers came up short.

“While the number of apartments may be privately financed, it’s still the same 25% that we see here every day,” Goodridge said. “And secondary displacement is real.”

The Innovation QNS development consists of 12 buildings, with eight standing at over 15 floors and the two largest at 27 floors. The developers behind the proposal are Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios.

“The need for affordable homes, family-sustaining jobs, public open space and expanded services for immigrants, seniors and young people has never been greater and today’s overwhelming approval of Innovation QNS by the City Planning Commission is an important step toward delivering all of that and more for our neighbors in Astoria,” Kaufman Astoria Studios Vice President Tracy Capune said. “We look forward to working with Council member Won and our neighbors in the weeks ahead to ensure City Council approval of this $2 billion investment at a critical moment for our community.”