Rezoning application for 332-unit development in Astoria fails to gain community council approval

Rendering of 11th Street and 34th Avenue rezoning proposal presented to Community Council 1

March 18, 2022 By Christian Murray

A development team looking to rezone an industrial property at 11and Street to construct two 8-story buildings – which would include 332 units and two trade schools – was unable to gain approval from Community Board 1 on Tuesday night.

Council voted 15 for and 15 against the project, with several council members rejecting it saying it did not provide enough affordable housing at appropriate income levels for Astoria residents.

Meanwhile, his supporters voted for the bid given the entirety of the project – which includes trade schools, artist studios, a non-profit organization and retail space – which they say will made the plan worthwhile, although the affordable housing component was not what they ultimately wanted.

Council’s decision not to approve the project, however, will not put an end to the application. Its vote is merely advisory, in a process that will include the recommendation of the Queens Borough President and the Planning Commission, as well as the binding vote of the City Council.

With all one-time rezonings, developers are required to provide affordable housing in accordance with the city’s mandatory inclusive housing program.

In this development, the developers, listed as JPP 33rd Street LLC and Lily & John Realty Inc., are providing 82 permanently affordable housing units (25% of total units) in the two buildings at a median income level average of 60 percent – which equates to about $72,000 for a family of four.

The proposal includes two buildings on an industrial block that runs from 34th Avenue to 33rd Road, between 11th and 12th streets. The developers need the property to be zoned in order to increase the density that would allow the two buildings of such scale.

Rezoning area as presented to Community Council 1

The first building would have eight stories and comprise 194 units of which 48 would be deemed affordable in accordance with city requirements. The building would also include nearly 90,000 square feet of commercial/industrial space that would be used for local retail spaces, artist studios and two non-profit trade schools.

One of the trade schools would be the Andromeda Community Initiative, which offers free educational programs to help people find jobs in the construction industry. The other trade school would be York Studios, which offers film and television production programs.

The building would also include a retail space on the ground floor which would be on the corner of 11and Street and 33rd Road. There would also be 100 cellar parking spaces and 111 bicycle parking spaces.

Development site as presented to Community Board 1

The second building would include 138 units, 34 of which would be affordable in line with city requirements. The plan would include ground-floor retail, technology-focused offices and 24,000 square feet that would be leased by a New Jersey-based food distribution company. There would also be 10,000 square feet of space for a local non-profit organization.

Development site as presented to Community Board 1

The immediate area is currently desolate with low garages and small apartment buildings. The block, according to the promoters, would invigorate the region and bring investment and jobs.

The original plan included 352 units, but CB1’s land use and zoning committee last week requested that the developer reduce the number of studios and one-bedroom units in order to increase the number of apartments family. The change saw the addition of 20 3-bedroom units, resulting in fewer units.

Unit Mix presented by the developer on March 15 following a request from CB1 to increase the number of family-sized apartments.

For many council members, approval of the plan was based primarily on the affordable housing component.

They argued that there was not enough affordable housing and income levels were too high.

“We need very affordable housing,” said board member Doreen Mohammed. “About $2,000 [a month] at $75,000 a year, it’s not doing well.

The plan calls for 82 permanently affordable housing units. Twenty-seven of these units would be offered at 40% of the region’s median income, which equates to about $48,000 for a family of four; 28 units at 60% AMI, or about $72,000 for a family of four; and 27 units at 80% AMI, or about $96,000 for a household of four.

Board member Diana Limongi echoed Mohammed’s comments. “I find the amounts indicated too high. There are not enough apartments and the rents are too high.

Frank St. Jacques, a zoning attorney who represents developers, said the average AMI in Astoria is around 60%. He said the developer has plenty of affordable units at this level. However, he said he would discuss with the developer providing units at a more affordable price.

Rental prices and area median income requirements presented by developer to Community Board 1

St. Jacques said the plan would bring significant benefits to the region and predicted that it would create 96 office jobs; 72 retail positions; 163 jobs in trade schools; 16 workers in artists’ studios; 30 employees at the community facility; and two workers from the food distribution company.

However, council members such as Mohammed have focused on affordable housing. “Don’t say it benefits the community. It’s not for working-class New Yorkers.

Other members said that many of the employees who will work in the building would not be able to afford to live there.

The plan, however, has been approved by representatives from Urban Upbound, SEIU 32 BJ, Woodside Houses as well as the Baptist Church of Astoria. The plan also received support from the CB1 Land Use and Zoning Committee and CB1 President Marie Torniali.

The corner of 11th Street and 33rd Road (GMap)

Corner of 34th Avenue and 12th Street (GMaps)

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