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Astoria Megaproject Has Residents Scared About Affordability

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One of the two waterfront megaprojects planned for Astoria's Hallets Point peninsula continued its public review process last night at a community board meeting that revealed many neighbors are aching for details about affordable housing. In April, City Planning green-lit Alma Realty's application for the 1,000,000-square-foot Astoria Cove development, which earmarked 295 units out of 1,689 as affordable, or just about 20 percent. But at the meeting, an attorney representing Alma, Howard Weiss, could neither divulge if that's the final number nor how much the affordable units will cost. "I can tell you right now, as you know, it's 295. We're working to exceed it," Weiss told Queens Community Board 2's zoning committee and a crowded banquet room at Astoria Manor. The company is currently discussing the details with City Planning. Added Weiss: "We're not there yet. So I can't provide a number."

Astoria Cove would join Lincoln Equities' Hallets Point project in transforming a large swath of underused East River real estate into a sprawling, towertastic residential center with retail, park space and other amenities.

The zoning committee is expected to make a recommendation at a June 17 meeting of the entire community board before Alma's plans get passed along to the borough president, City Planning, and City Council for the next steps in the six-month Uniform Land Use Review Process. But residents worried the board would vote next week without specifics on affordable housing and other matters. "It's really hard for me to approve on a hand if we don't know what we're talking about," said one board member. Others echoed that sentiment. "I'm shocked to the extent they threw back your questions at you," said John Collins, a Queens College professor.

The question of affordability emerged from the larger concern that Astoria will gentrify at the rate of other waterfront neighborhoods such as Greenpoint or Long Island City. "Manhattan has become too expensive for those with the big bucks to live, so they come to Astoria," said Robin Person, who's lived on the peninsula for 32 years. "Affordability for whom? For those who make more than 70 grand?" she asked. "My rent may go up and I might have to leave, but I've been there the whole time."

On the flip side, some residents were excited about the project. "Our community has been neglected for years," said Dianne Kurtis of the Old Astoria Community Association. She spoke of the supermarket, the school and the waterfront esplanade that Alma plans to build. She said that these days no one goes down to the water there.

Then there's that perennial neighbor beef: blocked views. Some area residents worried that Astoria Cove's three waterfront towers—at 26, 32 and 22 stories, respectively —would rob neighbors of their view of Manhattan. "For many of us, that view is the explanation of why we live here," said a local artist.

In an opening presentation, Studio V Architecture principal Jay Valgora stressed the firm's broken-up design for Astoria Cove, which stands in contrast to the wall-like Shore Towers next door. "We want to create slender buildings that allow views and connectivity to the waterfront," he said.

In the pro-development camp were workers who would stand to benefit from construction jobs. Dozens of attendees donned yellow T-shirts to show allegiance to workers' advocacy group Build Up NYC—which brought more than a 1,000 postcards to hand out—to support sustainable development and local jobs and contracts. Many wanted guarantees that the project would be built with union labor, although Weiss, the Astoria Cove attorney, couldn't specify a percentage of union jobs.

Last but not least, questions of transportation, currently under-served by public transit, cropped up. Prospects for a water taxi were debated. While some saw a perfect opportunity to bypass going inland into Queens to get to Manhattan and back, others saw a tax-subsidized service for Astoria Cove's presumably well-off future residents.

In one melodramatic moment, Jeannie Ortiz, who lives near the site, claimed that her complaints about a construction company mishandling asbestos led to an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Calling for further discussion of the matter, she said, "Everyone in my building is complaining of the air quality." After she refused to step down from the podium when her allotted time was up, she was escorted back to her seat. Onwards, to the next meeting on June 17.
—Shannon Ayala
· Astoria's First Residential Waterfront Towers, Revealed! [Curbed]
· All Astoria Cove coverage [Curbed]
· All Hallets Point coverage [Curbed]