Astoria, Queens is a charming, historically rich, multilingual community known for its human scale, great food, and concentration of artistic talent. That is, except for a small section at the south end of Steinway Street which is mostly given over to parking lots, empty lots, and old, underutilized industrial buildings.
Nothing could be less in tune with the environment. But a proposal called QNS Innovation by a partnership of three developers — Silverstein Properties, Kaufman-Astoria Studios and Bedrock Real Estate — would bring the backwater to life with a $2 billion mixed-use resort.
But, hey, progress is hard to come by in “progressive” New York City. Mayor Eric Adams, who has yet to address the plan, must speak out strongly in favor of it. Otherwise, its stated commitment to enlightened new development will be exposed as a scam.
As is the standard form, QNS Innovation faces resistance from local eccentrics worried about “gentrification” (in an area that was gentrified long ago), “off-scale” (a pair of 26-storey buildings might as well be Billionaires’ Row cloudbusters, right?) And other evils that inhabit the minds of diehard NIMBY types.
The word “complex” suggests gigantic companies like Hudson Yards and Manhattan West. QNS innovation is a pygmy in comparison. It would consist of 12 mostly low-rise buildings spread over five sprawling blocks, with apartments, shops, cafes and cultural facilities.
It would also bring more than two acres of new public open spaces to a neighborhood that, for all its pleasures, has some of the least open spaces in the city.
Out of 2,845 apartments, an impressive 25% would be permanently affordable. A sensible complement to Astoria’s vibrant urban mix and requiring no public subsidies or evictions, the project should be a no-brainer to bless and build.
But in New York, what’s a boon to anyone with eyes and brains is anathema to reactionary “progressives.”
Since the plan requires rezoning for buildings larger than what is currently allowed under outdated age of manufacture rules, it must go through the torturous process of uniform land use review. from the city. The seven-month public hazing, which is expected to begin in March, will be a barometer of City Hall’s vision.
It will mostly be a test of the city council, some of whose far-left, defund-the-cops members are obviously bonkers. Unfortunately, a tradition known as “member deference” gives the council member who represents a district the ability to single-handedly torpedo a sound proposal that would benefit the city as a whole.
It happened in 2020 when far-left councilman Carlos Menchaca’s pledge to vote against a microscopic rezoning of Brooklyn’s Industry City prompted developers to pull the plug.
The anti-development fervor has also killed Amazon’s dream of a new campus in Long Island City and snuffed out other laudable dreams before they begin. Why should developers invest fortunes in planning new projects, knowing that they could fall through on complaints of insufficient trees?
Newly elected Astoria Councilor Julie Won has yet to state her position on QNS Innovation. But despite widespread support from businesses and arts organizations in the neighborhood, the plan is under attack from a predictable array of NIMBY types, including members of Queens Community Board 1.
“I think most people in the community are concerned about heights,” the head of CB1’s land use committee cried. Of course, the “concerned” locals are mainly the handful of activists who have free time and monopolize the agendas of community councils. Many would raise a stink if the buildings were 26 feet high.
Projects that incorporate affordable apartments are often attacked for not being affordable enough to suit critics. The same moan arose about QNS Innovation. In fact, the lower-cost 725 units would be for those with an average annual income of $50,000. Nearly 300 are reserved for those earning just $33,000 a year or families of four with an annual income of $47,000.
Short of donating space in a city with the highest construction costs in the country, it’s hard to imagine how developers could be more generous.
The development team has gone the extra mile, and more, to liberate the community. He hosted meetings and presentations with local groups for more than two years — including one with CB1 last week — before the project even began the official city review process. Developers listened and responded, making changes to the size and design of several buildings.
QNS innovation deserves a quick green light. Pray that opponents of NIMBY fail to derail it for no other reason than to fulfill their own peekaboo agendas.