Sept. 13, 2022 By Michael Dorgan and Christian Murray
Council member Tiffany Cabán announced this morning that she will vote in support of a massive rezoning proposal that will bring 1,340 apartments to a vacant manufacturing site on the Halletts Point peninsula.
Her support, she says, comes after being assured that the development will include affordable housing at “deeply affordable levels.” Additionally, she said, the proposal is a better alternative than the site remaining an empty wasteland—or potentially being used as a “last mile facility” that the existing zoning permits.
The rezoning application filed by Astoria Owners LLC. calls for the construction of three residential towers—one 22 stories, another 31 stories and a third 35 stories—on a 3.8-acre industrial site located at 3-15 26th Avenue, just a block away from the Durst Organization’s massive Halletts Point project and near the NYCHA Astoria Houses complex. The development is called Halletts North.
“The lot is fenced off and looks like a dump,” Cabán said, who announced her support for the project at a press conference outside the site this morning. “The best we can hope for without a rezoning is a last mile facility where some massive corporation like Amazon would pay our neighbors garbage wages for non-stop back breaking work that would clog our neighbors with dangerous, pollution-heavy delivery vehicles.”
“A ‘no’ vote would be a vote for that,” Cabán said.
The site is currently zoned for manufacturing (M1-1) and the developer needs for it to be rezoned to mixed-use residential (R7-3/C2-4) in order for the project to move forward.
The proposal also includes a publicly accessible waterfront park, 9,700 square feet of community space for nonprofits, 3,600 square feet of retail space and a 525-car garage.
Cabán said that she will vote yes when it comes up for a vote in the city council, which essentially assures that the development will move ahead. The city council typically votes in lockstep with the representative where a development is proposed in what’s known as member deference.
The council vote marks the final step in the rezoning process and a yes vote means the project can proceed.
The plan has already been approved by Community Board 1 and the Queens Borough President, both providing non-binding recommendations. The City Planning Commission approved it in July.
But the amount of affordable housing has been a major sticking point since the development was proposed.
The application, prior to the Cabán’s recent negotiations, involved 25 percent of the units (approximately 335 units) being affordable, at an average Area Median Income (AMI) of 60 percent, equating to about $80,000 for a family of four.
The deal Cabán struck will see the same number of affordable units being built, although they will be at more deeply affordable levels.
The agreement will see 134 units set aside at 30 percent of the AMI (equating to $40,000 for a family of four); 134 units at 50 percent AMI ($66,700 for a family of four); and 67 units at 80 percent AMI ($106, 720 for a family of four). The remaining 1,005 units will be market rate apartments.
The development, given these affordable housing benchmarks, will feature 268 apartments that will be for people who earn up to 50 percent of the AMI, Cabán said. She said the number will significantly increase the number of truly affordable units in the district.
“In the last 10 years, Community Board 1 has produced fewer than 500 units below 50 percent AMI…and with this project we will almost double the number,” she said.
The number of units being offered at the discounted income levels is greater than what’s required in accordance with the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirements, Cabán said.
When Queens Borough President Donovan Richards made his recommendation in support of the project on May 23, he called for the developers to commit to exploring deeper levels of affordability.
In a tweet, following Cabán’s announcement this morning, Richards praised her for her “leadership” in acknowledgement of the project’s deeper affordability and her support for the project.
The community board, in its narrow 19-14 vote in support of the application on April 19, also made mention of a need for greater affordability, with some of its members opposing the project arguing that it lacked enough affordable housing.
“While it is going to be lovely for the wealthy and the few who may get an affordable apartment…the developers are not providing what people need and are creating greater inequity, particularly in this area,” said board member Evie Hantzopoulos prior to the April vote.
The apartments are larger than what was initially proposed, with Cabán calling for family-sized apartments. There are no studios in the project, with the plan now including 950 one-bedrooms; 315 2-bedrooms and 75 3-bedrooms.
Cabán said the development will bring other benefits to the community. She said the developer has pledged to invest $1 million to benefit NYCHA Astoria Houses, which the Astoria Houses Tenants Association and NYCHA can spend as they see fit.
The development will also include community space that will be used by Urban Upbound and Zone 126, two local non-profits that focus on improving the lives of low-income and NYCHA residents. Each will pay an annual rent of $1, Cabán said.
But the waterfront park, Cabán said, was particularly attractive—with the developer planning to transform about 40,000 square feet of the site into a public waterfront promenade, which will be accessible through a new road at 3rd Street.
“There will be park space for everyone in the community to enjoy,” Cabán said.
The site, she said, currently “contributes nothing to the community and prohibits our neighbors from accessing the waterfront. It also sends a message to residents of Astoria Houses a block over that they are not worthy of a safe comfortable neighborhood.”
The press conference, attended by about a dozen people, featured representatives of NYCHA Astoria Houses, Urban Upbound, Zone 126, SEIU 32 BJ and a member of the Queens chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Claudia Coger, a long-time resident of Astoria Houses and a former president of its tenants association, praised Cabán for consulting NYCHA residents as to what they believed needed to be in the plan.
Sabina Unni, a member of the Queens chapter of the DSA, complimented Cabán for using the zoning regulations to extract benefits for the community from the developer, such as the $1 million for Astoria Houses.
Representatives of the developer also had high praise for Cabán. They issued a statement shortly after she announced she would approve the project.
“We are honored to have Council Member Caban’s support for the Halletts North project,” said Jim Hedden, a representative of the development team. “The Council Member understands that our city is facing an unprecedented housing crisis but has maintained that it is equally important that the local community also benefit from new development.”
Hedden said that Hallets North would bring “desperately needed jobs, affordable housing and develop a publicly accessible waterfront park, from a previously unusable industrial site.”
Cabán said that while she is voting in support of the project, changes need to be made as to how the city and state adds much-needed housing.
She unveiled a 10-point plan to create more affordable housing. The plan includes the creation of a New York City land bank, supporting community-based developers—such as community land trusts—and advocating for Good Cause Eviction legislation.
“We need a housing system where every single New Yorker no matter their income has a guaranteed home,” Cabán said.