Astoria, Queens, is a charming, polyglot, historically rich community known for its humane scale, great food and concentration of artistic talent. That is, except for one small section at the south end of Steinway Street that’s mostly given over to parking lots, empty lots and underutilized old industrial buildings.
Nothing could be less in sync with the surroundings. But a proposal called Innovation QNS 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 complex.
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 forcefully in favor of it. Otherwise, his stated commitment to enlightened new development will be revealed as a scam.
As is standard form, Innovation QNS faces resistance from local cranks worried about “gentrification” (in an area that was gentrified long ago), “out-of-scale” (a pair of 26-story buildings might as well be Billionaires’ Row cloudbusters, right?) and other evils that dwell in the minds of hard-core NIMBY types.
The word “complex” suggests mammoth enterprises like Hudson Yards and Manhattan West. Innovation QNS is a pygmy by comparison. It would consist of 12 mostly low-rise buildings spread across five sprawling blocks, with apartments, stores, cafés and cultural facilities.
It would also bring more than two acres of new public open space to a neighborhood that, for all its pleasures, has some of the least open space in the city.
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 City, what’s a boon to anyone with eyes and a brain is anathema to reactionary “progressives.”
Because the plan requires a zoning change for buildings larger than currently allowed under antiquated, manufacturing-age rules, it must undergo the city’s tortuous Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The seven-month public hazing, likely to start in March, will be a bellwether barometer of City Hall’s vision.
It will especially be a test of the City Council, some of whose far-left, defund-the-cops members are patently nuts. Unfortunately, a tradition known as “member deference” gives the councilmember 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 microscopically small rezoning of Brooklyn’s Industry City prompted the developers to pull the plug.
Anti-development fervor also killed Amazon’s dream of a new campus in Long Island City and snuffed out other worthy dreams before they started. Why should developers invest fortunes to plan new projects, knowing they could go down the drain over complaints about insufficient numbers of trees?
Newly elected Astoria Councilwoman Julie Won has yet to state her position on Innovation QNS. But despite widespread support from neighborhood business and arts organizations, the plan is under attack by a predictable array of NIMBY types, including members of Queens Community Board 1.
“I think most people in the community are concerned about the heights,” wailed the head of CB1’s land-use committee. Of course, the “concerned” locals are mainly the handful of activists with time on their hands who hog community-board agendas. Many would raise a stink if the buildings were 26 feet tall.
Projects that incorporate affordable apartments are often attacked because they aren’t affordable enough to suit critics. The same whining has arisen over Innovation QNS. In fact, the 725 lower-cost units would be for those with an average $50,000 annual income. Nearly 300 are reserved for those earning a mere $33,000 a year or for families of four with $47,000 annual earnings.
Short of giving the space away in a city with the nation’s highest building costs, it’s hard to imagine how the developers could be any more generous.
The development team has gone the extra mile, and more, to enfranchise the community. It has held meetings and presentations with local groups for more than two years — including one with CB1 last week — even before the project begins the official city review process. The developers have listened and responded, making changes to the sizes and designs of several buildings.
Innovation QNS deserves a prompt green light. Pray that the NIMBY naysayers fail to derail it for no reason beyond fulfilling their own cuckoo agendas.