At a public hearing for a couple of rezoning proposals for potential apartment buildings in lower-west Astoria and Long Island City Thursday, the question seemed to become how new, not-so small developments with mostly market-rate housing will lend to the future of the neighborhood.
Community Board 1 held the hearing at the NYCHA Ravenswood Houses, between the two sites of interest. One proposal is for rezoning 11-14 35th Avenue at the corner of 12th Street from commercial to mixed-use so that United Crane and Rigging would be replaced by an eight-story building with 74 residential units and retail at the base. (For some perspective, the Ravenswood Houses across 12th Street are six stories tall.) In the other, Variety Boys and Girls Club is proposing to replace its existing building at 21-12 30th Road along 21st Street with a larger club space attached to a 14 story apartment building. The apartment building, owned by a yet-to-be-identified developer, would pay for the club’s expansion.
The corner of 35th Avenue and 12th is recognizable for the mural that explains tenants rights and the long cylindrical roof. The new building at at eight stories would be tall for the area. Its front entrance would be on 35th Avenue. Of the 74 units, 22 would be classified as affordable, at 80% AMI (Area Median Income). For an affordable studio, a tenant would have to make $58,000 a year, for a one bedroom pay $1,566 in rent, for a two bedroom make $75,120 in income (rent would be about $1,800) and for a three bedroom, make about $83,000 for a family of four. Once that was clarified, there was some laughter. The developer, Ravi Management, intends for the base tenant to be a supermarket or restaurant to “generate jobs,” a rep said. Bishop Mitchell Taylor, CEO of Urban Upbound and enthusiast for hiring local said the retail component is “very important for us.”
April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge tenants association, asked why the area was chosen but there wasn’t really an answer. Someone also asked if NYCHA residents wouldn’t be able to apply for the affordable units, and said that happened previously in the area. No one was sure if that was true or what to say about it.
The Variety Boys and Girls Club development would be a lot more visible in Astoria, replacing what looks like an old, single-story school house and court-yard with a kind of substantial modern facility alongside the heavy traffic of 21st Street. The apartment building on the land would be 14 stories high with 112 units, 34 set as affordable and a retail base. The club itself would be five stories high. The presentation opened with a video showing children using robotics. Then, Walter Sanchez, president of the board of directors of Variety B&G Club and publisher of the LIC/Astoria Journal, which is part of the Queens Ledger company, asked who in the room had been to the club in the last four years. It seemed like almost everyone there had. Teenagers gave personal testimony to what the after-school and summer camp space means to them. At a point, land-use chair Elizabeth Erion tried to bring the focus back to the rezoning application.
But some people actually challenged the non-profit. Yakima Levi, a Queensbridge resident and sewing instructor at the Ravenswood community center, implied that current members of the community won’t be able to live in the building and asked if it will set a precedent for tall buildings. One of the project’s representatives said, “No one’s going to be able to tell that that’s a 14 story building” from the street, because it will have glass top. “It completes the street,” he said, making “21st Street more pedestrian-friendly.” Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses tenants association, said it would be “impossible” for a glass top to make the upper floors invisible. “We want to be honest about these things,” she said. “That opens the window for 14 story buildings to be built in this area.” There are already some buildings more or less that tall or almost, scattered about along 21st Street through Astoria but mostly buildings are smaller on the car-heavy strip.
Another person asked, in a kind of solemn and genuine sort of way, if people are still going to be able to afford this area after buildings like this are constructed. CB1 Chair Marie Torniali, said in an understanding tone, “development is the way of the future.”