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$2B Innovation QNS Project On Shaky Ground After Council Member Rejection

The future of one of the largest development proposals in Queens history is uncertain after the local New York City Council member said she won’t support the $2B proposal because it will make the area less affordable.

The corner of 35th Avenue and 42nd Street in Queens, part of the Innovation QNS development site.

Silverstein Properties, Kaufman Astoria Studios and Bedrock Real Estate Partners want to build a 2.7M SF development on a 2-acre site in Astoria that would feature 12 buildings, 100K SF of community space and thousands of housing units. The development was approved by the New York Department of City Planning last month, but Council Member Julie Won, who represents the local district, publicly announced her opposition on Friday.

She said the developers' plans to keep 40% of the units affordable didn't merit her support because the increase over its original proposal — which had a 25% affordability requirement — would be taxpayer-funded.

"As Council Member, I stand firm in demanding that Innovation QNS provide more affordable housing—40% funded by the developer, and if the City were to fund an additional 15%, it would mean a total of 55% affordable housing units," she wrote in a statement. "If the developers cannot meet my community's needs at this time, I am willing to work with them in the future, in partnership with local residents and the city, as part of a community-led Neighborhood Rezoning."

In a statement to The Queens Daily Eagle, a spokesperson for Innovation QNS said the developers would keep working with the council to gain approval.

“Innovation QNS would be the largest privately developed affordable housing project in the history of Queens, creating 1,100 affordable homes including 500 deeply affordable homes for New Yorkers most in need with incomes starting at $28,000,” the spokesperson said. “In both the overall number of affordable homes and the number of deeply affordable homes at 30 [percent area median income], Innovation QNS would by a large margin dwarf all other recently approved rezonings in New York City.”

Because of the scale of the project — and the city's dire need for affordable housing — there is speculation that the city council might go against its precedent of local deference, in which the full council typically votes with the local member. Won sent an email last week to other council members and staff warning them about voting against her, Politico reported.

“It would also send a message to our communities that the Council will work around them and their representatives for the profit of large real estate interests,” she wrote in the email, per Politico.

The Department of City Planning approved the Innovation QNS plan by a 10-3 vote, and while commission Chair Dan Garodnick noted the developers could have run better community outreach in the early phases, the development would bring thousands of homes to the community.

The project initially failed to gain the support of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who said it fell short on affordability. The developers increased the affordability component on the 2,800 units from 25% to 40%, after which he backed the project.