CB1 votes down proposed eight-story Astoria building
by Benjamin Fang
Oct 16, 2019 | 509 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A proposed eight-story residential building with a community theater on the ground floor in Upper Astoria has been rejected by the local community board.

Last Thursday, after a long night of presentations by the developers and testimonies from local residents, Community Board 1 voted against the project, 21-12, unless developers met certain conditions, including lower the height of the building.

The proposed rezoning will now go to the borough president’s office and the City Planning Commission for review before being ultimately decided on by the City Council.

The project, developed by Mega Contracting Group and the Pancyprian Association of America, would bring 88 rental units, 250-seat theater, 70-spot parking garage and a host of other amenities to the site at 22-60 46th Street.

Twenty-eight of the 88 units would be affordable under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program.

Hercules Argyriou, a partner at Mega Contracting Group, said the site is currently used for industrial purposes. The development, he said, would bring the property more in alignment with nearby residential homes.

“We didn’t want to turn it into another storage facility, we wanted to give some life to it,” he said. “We try to be conscientious builders.”

The original plan for the site was to build 135 apartments with a heavily studio-dense unit mix, according to Emanual Kokinakis from Mega Contracting Group. The project would have have 105 parking spots.

After meeting several times with CB1’s Land Use Committee, and hearing a desire to have more family-friendly units, the developer altered the project to 88 total units.

The new plan eliminates all studios in favor of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. About 60 percent of the units will be two- and three-bedrooms, Kokinakis said.

As for the 28 affordable units, the developer has chosen the “Workforce Housing Option,” which requires 30 percent of all units be permanently affordable at an average of 115 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Eighteen of the 28 units will be offered at 135 percent of the AMI, with rents that go as high as $2,507 a month for a one-bedroom and $3,566 a month for a three-bedroom apartment. The income threshold ranges from $90,583 to $163,350.

Five units will be at 90 percent of the AMI, and the other five will be at 70 percent of the AMI.

Nora Martins, land use counsel for the developers from Akerman LLP, said the decision was made based on an analysis of the incomes in the area. Although the median household income in Astoria is about $60,000, the median income for that census tract is closer to $70,000 per household.

According to Martins, nearly 60 percent of the population in the census tract makes between $47,000 and $163,000 per household, which reflects the “broad range of incomes” that the option serves.

“We do feel that the affordability within these levels are well-needed and will be well-absorbed within the community,” Kokinakis said. “This is middle-class housing for families.”

The project also includes 6,300 square feet of commercial space along 45th Street.

Kokinakis said they like to put complimentary residential and community uses in their retail spaces.

“We’re trying to make this a very family-friendly building,” he said.

The cultural aspect of the project is the 11,000-square-foot community theater that would be operated by the Pancyprian Association of America. The Astoria-based group plans to host up to six major performances at the site, and use the space for practice and smaller events regularly.

The theater will be available to other community organizations and cultural groups for use, representatives from the project team said.

Many supporters of the theater, particularly from the Greek-American community, showed up at the meeting to speak in favor of the project.

Philip Christopher, president of the Pancyprian Association, said the proposed theater would have a “major impact” in Astoria.

“If this was not good for this community, I would be against it too,” he said. “Believe me, it’s good for the community.”

“I think it’s something longing for many years,” added Elena Maroulleti, a TV host and Astoria resident. “We need this project for the benefit of Greek-Americans and the wider public that lives here in Astoria.”

CB1 members brought up concerns about parking, particularly during nights when there are large performances. Kokinakis responded that Mega Contracting Group is reaching out to local businesses that own large parking lots in hopes of using those spaces for off-site parking.

Another concern, in addition to neighborhood parking, was the increased burden the development would have on local infrastructure, including public transit and the electrical grid.

But the largest issue CB1 members took with the project concerned the building’s height and affordability. Rodolfo Sarchese, a longtime member, said the development would change the character of the neighborhood and “destroy residential values.”

“We have to realize the negative impact this would have on our community,” he said. “We don’t want to destroy this beautiful residential area.”

Evie Hantzopoulos said most of the affordable units in the project are close to the market-rate rents, and asked the developer why they can’t go with a more affordable option.

“What’s being built now in Astoria is more than what the community can afford,” she said. “There’s lots of stuff being built for people who are middle and upper income, but even middle-income folks are getting priced out. This is not affordable to them.

“The real need in Astoria is affordable housing, not luxury housing,” Hantzopoulos added. “Why can’t you do better in that respect?”

Kokinakis responded that this development is not publicly financed, but rather financed by private equity and private debt.

“We need to offset the cost and loss of income generated from the community facility space with a higher tier of affordable units,” he said.

“It’s just really hard for me to swallow, given everything going on is pricing people out in Astoria,” Hantzopoulos responded. “That’s what causes homelessness.”

A large group of residents who attended the meeting last week spoke against the project, including members of the Astoria Homeowners, Tenants and Business Civic Association.

Al Rizzo said quiet residential neighborhoods like Astoria are being “overpopulated” by big developers, with impacts on fire safety and public transit.

“The streets in the Ditmars area are becoming more congested,” he said. “They are not built to permit this kind of heavy traffic.”

The civic group collected 610 signatures on a petition against the project.

“It’s too big to be in a residential area,” said Tony Mazzara.

“It doesn’t fit in this community,” added Luigi Farina.

After a break-out session, the Land Use Committee recommended disapproval unless the project meets specific conditions, including reducing the height of the building to reflect the surrounding neighborhood context.

“Consider redesigning the building so it is not as high,” said committee co-chair Elizabeth Erion.

On affordability, the committee wants the developer to choose the option mandating 30 percent of units be affordable at an average of 80 percent of the AMI, rather than the “workforce” option.

Other conditions include increasing the number of parking spaces, limiting the theater use for nonprofit community and cultural groups, and limiting the number of units to no more than 88.

In a statement, Councilman Costa Constantinides said the project is an ongoing dialogue, and the community board’s voice is crucial to the decision-making process.

“We will take their vote and the particular issues members raised into serious consideration as this process moves forward,” Constantinides said.
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