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NYC Council approves massive Queens housing plan after developer concessions

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A plan to build the largest private housing development in Queens was approved by the New York City Council Tuesday following a flurry of last-minute talks between the developers and the councilmember who represents the community.

The $2 billion project dubbed “Innovation QNS” would transform a five-block area of Astoria that includes the Museum of the Moving Image with 3,200 apartments, of which around 1,400 would be designated as affordable housing, according to the City Council.

The City Council voted 46-1 on the plan Tuesday afternoon after a review and approval by the Department of City Planning in the morning. The project was greenlit by the Council’s land use committee on Monday.

The project looks to essentially create a new neighborhood in what supporters say is an underutilized industrial section of Queens. In addition to housing, the developers — a partnership between Silverstein Properties, BedRock Real Estate Partners and Kaufman Astoria Studios — have proposed two acres of open space as well as retail and restaurants.

Initial plans had called for roughly 700 below-market rate units. But Councilmember Julie Won, who represents the district and held the key vote in the City Council, pushed for greater affordability. Ultimately, the developers increased both the total number of units as well as those considered affordable.

“I always knew it would be a compromise,” Won said during the City Council meeting.

Acknowledging the desire by some in the community to see more affordable units, she said that she and other city officials were “doing the best we can” amid an affordable housing crisis.

In addition to the number of units, the level of affordability had been one of the major points of contention. Under the current plan, 825 apartments will be set aside for those making below 50% of the area median income – around $53,400 for a couple. Of that total, around 300 will be reserved for individuals leaving the city’s shelter system.

As part of a community benefits agreement related to the project, the developers will also set aside $2 million for free legal services to protect neighboring tenants from displacement, discrimination and harassment.

Following approval by the Council’s land use committee Monday, Mayor Eric Adams hailed the project, describing it as a “game-changer” for the neighborhood. It’s unclear when construction would start should the Council approve the plan.

News about the Astoria plan comes on the heels of an announcement by Adams last week that the city had reached a deal to build a soccer stadium in the long-targeted area of Willets Point near Citi Field.

That plan – which is yet to undergo the lengthy city’s land use approval process – would include 2,500 affordable apartments along with a hotel.

The concession by the Astoria developers will likely be criticized by some as insufficient. Some residents who spoke at a public hearing last month had pointed out the area’s makeup of largely immigrant and working-class neighbors.

“There’s no reason we should be accepting anything less than 100% deeply affordable housing,” said Doreen Mohammed, a member of the group “Astoria Is Not For Sale,” during a public hearing last month.

This story has been updated to reflect the City Council’s official approval of the plan, and additional comment from Councilmember Julie Won.