Astoria residents voice concerns over proposed luxury development

Posted at 8:22 PM, Jul 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-17 20:19:23-04

ASTORIA, Queens (PIX11) -- Astoria has long been one of New York's most diverse, vibrant and affordable communities, but concerns that a proposed mega development on the community's waterfront may displace low and moderate income residents was part of a protest and hearing at the Queens borough president's office on Thursday.

Right now, most of the northeastern section of the Hallet's Point section of Astoria is a collection of garages, warehouses and other industrial buildings along the East River waterfront. If developer Alma Realty has its way, however, by the next decade, the area north of 27th Avenue and east of 4th Street will be a complex of high rise, luxury buildings.

Despite the fact that the project generally has wide support, protestors packed the conference room at the Queens borough president's office. Most of the demonstrators, who wore orange 'Build Up NYC' t-shirts and carried signs calling for affordable housing and well paying jobs, were from the coalition of labor groups called Build Up NYC.

"That's why we're fighting for good jobs, right?" said Jessica Ramos, spokeswoman for the organization. "[To] provide a path into the middle class to let Astoria's middle class strengthen and grow."

Her group says that one of its missions is to ensure that the 1,700 unit Astoria Cove project get built with union labor, and then be run by union labor once the building is complete.

Build Up NYC is also allied with community groups that say they want to ensure that the new development, the first in the city that's required to have affordable housing as part of its designation, not displace current moderate and low income residents. The groups say they also want the new development to attract new residents of modest means through rents or mortgages considered affordable.

"Affordable, meaning what?" asked Olga Silva, a longtime Astoria resident. The answer to her question will be spelled out more clearly in the approval process for the development, of which Thursday's hearing by Borough President Melinda Katz was a part. She and the project's designer, spoke to the concerns of people in the packed hearing room.

"As every development comes before us," said Katz, a former chair of the city council's land use committee, "we need to make sure that [developers] help in making sure that [the affordable housing] crisis is taken care of."

The lack of affordable housing had been a major campaign issue for Bill de Blasio when he was seeking the mayor's office, and it has remained one of his administration's main challenges it's tried to meet.

The de Blasio Administration has called for up to 50 percent of new development to be affordable housing. The developers of Astoria Cove are currently planning for 20 percent, but its designer said that is part of a larger whole for this project, which is next to the city's largest public housing development.

"This project is already offering significant new parks, a school, a supermarket, the rebuilding of the streets," said designer Jay Valgora of Studio V Architects. "Affordable housing is one of the many components of that."

But in the end, the test will be ensuring longtime residents like Olga Silva can feel like her neighborhood is still her home. "What's affordable?" she asked. "Eight hundred dollars? Nine hundred? Two thousand is not affordable. A month? No."