By Jacob Kaye
The future of Innovation QNS, an enormous five-block development proposed for Astoria, grew murkier Thursday after the Queens borough president told the project’s developers they don’t have his support, the Eagle has learned.
Richards, reviewing the project as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, issued his formal – and advisory – recommendation on Innovation QNS less than an hour before his mandated deadline, urging the city to shoot down what amounts to the largest development project proposed for the borough in at least a decade.
The lack of approval from the borough president marks the second time in two months Innovation QNS, which would bring in over a dozen new buildings, nearly 3,000 apartments, offices, community, retail and open spaces to a corner of southeast Astoria if built, has been rejected by a local government body.
The conflict, previous rejections of the project and the ultimate reason for Richards’ disapproval was the developers’ commitment, or lack thereof, to increasing the number of affordable units.
“Despite serious discussions with the Applicant, they did not commit to increasing the total number of affordable units or affordability levels to thresholds that would make this project feasible for Queens residents,” Richards said in his decision.
The negotiations over the project, which is led by developers Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios, centered around affordable housing.
In developers Silverstein Properties, BedRock and Kaufman Astoria Studios’ pitch to Queens Community Board 1 – which voted against the project in late July – Innovation QNS would include 700 affordable units, or about 25 percent of the approximately 2,800 units. At the time, developers committed to setting the units at 40 percent of the area median income, or $37,360 for a single person and $53,360 for a family of four.
Throughout the month-long negotiation between the borough president and Innovation QNS’ developers, Silverstein, BedRock and Kaufman agreed in writing to set aside an unspecified number of units at or below 30 percent AMI, or $28,020 for a single person and $40,020 for a family of four.
However, further negotiations appeared to have stalled.
In his advisory opinion, Richards urged that the Department of City Planning and the City Council – the two bodies that will issue binding votes on the project – require the developers to commit to making 50 percent of the units affordable at 30 percent AMI.
“While 25 [percent] of the proposed residential floor area would yield approximately 711 affordable units, and some percentage of those units would be deeply affordable, the Astoria community has made it clear that more and deeper affordability is essential to stabilizing the neighbourhood,” Richards said.