City Council votes to approve massive $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria

Innovation QNS
The City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 22, voted to approve the Innovation QNS project in Astoria. (Rendering courtesy of Innovation QNS)

The developers behind the $2 billion Innovation QNS megaproject got the green light to remake a five-block area of southeast Astoria after the full City Council voted to approve the rezoning applications 46-1 on Nov. 22.

When the shovels hit the ground on the largest private affordable housing project in Queens history, it will be a far different project than the one the developers drew up a half-decade ago.

In order to gain the support of Councilwoman Julie Won, the Innovation QNS team — Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios — agreed to surrender office and community space to create an additional 299 affordable housing units. Their “exhaustive negotiations” with Won, Speaker Adrienne Adams, and the mayor’s office yielded more than double the number of affordable units that were originally offered, as well as an unprecedented package of community benefits.

“Today’s vote to approve the largest private affordable housing initiative in the history of Queens is a tremendous victory for our Astoria neighbors,” Kaufman Astoria Studios VP Tracy Capune said. “And we look forward to working with the community to ensure Innovation QNS is worthy of the overwhelming support it has earned from neighboring residents, tenant leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, small business owners, nonprofits, and cultural institutions.”

Before the final vote at Tuesday’s stated meeting, Speaker Adams spoke about her role in the final negotiations.

“I marshaled my office to bring the parties together to support the needs of the local community as expressed by the Council member and push the administration to meet those community demands in a hard negotiation,” Speaker Adams said. “This project was a major priority for me and this city to get done in the right way and I’m proud of how it advanced. I think we did a heck of a job with Innovation QNS.”

Innovation QNS
Speaker Adrienne Adams helped Councilwoman Julie Won during the final negotiations with the developers of the $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria. (Courtesy of NYC Council)

Laborers’ Local 79, which lobbied for Innovation QNS on behalf of its 10,000 construction workers from day one, singled out the Speaker for her leadership down the stretch.

“Speaker Adams deserves tremendous credit for bringing key stakeholders together to get this done,” Laborers’ Local 79 Business Manager Mike Prohaska said. “Speaker Adams has been a tremendous leader in affordable housing and a true champion of union job creation.”

He noted how 5,000 jobs will be created, including many union jobs.

“Local residents in Queens will help build this much-needed affordable housing, and many will be able to live in these new apartments, too,” Prohaska said.

During her remarks before the full Council vote, Won took a victory lap. She fell short of her 55% affordability target, but doubled the number of affordable units that were initially offered. Won also secured additional community benefits including a new school in Court Square since the developers were unable to provide one on site; more than $16 million for heating plant repairs; and resiliency investments at the nearby Woodside Houses, among other investments.

“We will no longer in my district allow luxury development to outpace the development of affordable units,” Won said. “I thank all of our community members for organizing and advocating as well as our Council members for holding the line with me and the speaker and the mayor for allowing us to get to where we are today because we would not have accomplished what many said is impossible.”

In remarks prior to the final vote, many of her colleagues praised Won for standing her ground after Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Mayor Eric Adams announced their support for the project after the developers offered 40% affordability.

 The final approved proposal has 45% affordability. Richards praised Won for her “fierce advocacy on behalf of her constituents” to ensure Astoria families benefit the most.

“This day is not about votes, percentages, or politics — it’s about Astoria families teetering on the brink of eviction. It’s about children doing their homework tonight in a homeless shelter and seniors being priced out of the only community they’ve ever lived in. That is who this day and this transformational project belongs to,” Richards said. “With the passage of Innovation QNS, this borough has set a new standard for what community-first development can and must look like. I fully believe Queens will lead our city out of this affordability crisis because, as we proved today, Queens will accept nothing less than historic investments in deeply affordable housing from any organization, private or public, that seeks to build here.”

The project will now head to the mayor’s office for final approval in the city’s arduous public review process that he vowed to address in the near future.

“My administration is moving forward plans for a citywide zoning text amendment that would help the city truly meet New Yorkers’ housing needs and create new housing across the entire city,” Eric Adams said. “We invite all New Yorkers to join us in crafting and advancing that plan.”