Key Council Subcommittee Approves a More Affordable Innovation QNS

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The New York City Council’s zoning subcommittee unanimously greenlit Innovation QNS Thursday morning, pushing Queens’ largest new development in decades through the final piece of the land use process and adding in a little more than 300 new affordable units.

The sprawling five-block project would turn a swath of industrial Astoria into a 2.7-million-square-foot mixed-use project with a few thousand apartments, retail, offices and community space. 

SEE ALSO: Gowanus Rezoning Should Be an Unmitigated Triumph. Why It’s Not.

But the project almost went off the rails after local Coucilmember Julie Won came out against it, arguing that developers Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties and Bedrock Real Estate Partners didn’t include enough affordable apartments in the project.

After Thursday’s vote, Won said that the project would have 1,436 permanently affordable units, an increase from the 1,100 the developers agreed to in August. That includes 500 apartments to be rented at 30 percent of the area median income, or $40,000 for a family of four, and 157 units for the formerly homeless. 

The overall number of apartments in the project has also risen, from 2,800 to 3,200, according to Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ office. The new totals also increase the percentage of affordable units slightly, from 40 percent to 44 percent.

“This vote is only a preliminary approval of this project,” said Won. “We’ve been negotiating daily to secure unprecedented levels of affordability for my immigrant and working-class community. I am diligently finalizing negotiations for commitments from the developer and the mayoral administration.”

Ultimately, the $2 billion project still has to be approved by the council’s land use committee and the full City Council in order to move forward. The council is the final step in the nine-month-long rezoning process, which also includes a recommendation from the borough president. Other members usually follow the lead of the local councilemember on their votes, but that’s not always the case

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards had initially opposed the mega-project, but did an about-face when the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development told him it would finance 15 percent of the affordable housing. He has clashed with Won over the project, along with several other western Queens politicians who oppose it. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district ends a few blocks from the site, agrees with Won, releasing a statement Wednesday night that any large new development in the district should be “majority affordable.”

“The vast majority of Innovation QNS units will be at a luxury rate, and the developer has only agreed that 25 percent of units will be permanently affordable — far below the 50 percent of Astoria residents whose incomes fall below affordability guidelines,” she said in a statement. “Promises of a 40 percent affordability rate rely on the city subsidizing 15 percent of those units, to which the city has yet to agree.”

A spokesperson for the developers didn’t immediately return a request for comment. 

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.