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$2B Innovation QNS Project Wins City Planning Approval

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

The New York City Planning Commission has given its support to a $2B mixed-use development in Astoria after Queens Borough President Donovan Richards voiced his opposition to the project.

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. On Wednesday, City Planning approved the plan by a 10-3 vote, Commercial Observer reports.

“Innovation QNS could have benefitted from earlier, more frequent and more robust community outreach from the applicant team,” City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick said during the meeting. “That said, Innovation QNS is a unique opportunity to create nearly 3,000 homes and hundreds of permanently affordable homes that will change the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, that will provide them with stability in a vibrant neighborhood, where little of that stability currently exists.”

He said the development is a win for the local economy and noted the housing would be built without any government subsidies.

Last month, the project hit a major snag when Richards came out against the developers' plans. His gripe was that the ratio of 711 affordable units to 2,100 market-rate apartments wasn’t sufficient, writing that it should be a 50/50 split. Innovation QNS would also include a new school and library, but Richards wants to push the developer to donate to schools and libraries already in the surrounding area, as well as existing scholarship programs.

Richards and Community Board 1 have each urged the city to reject the plans, but with the approval from the City Planning Commission, the next steps are a vote by the city council and then to Mayor Eric Adams for approval.

But the critical vote on the project is local City Council Member Julie Won — the full council almost always defers to the local member in land use cases. Won opposed the initial application, and released a list of guidelines last month that she wants the developers of the project to hit before she gives it a thumbs-up.

“The need for affordable homes; family-sustaining jobs; public open space; and expanded services for immigrants, seniors and young people has never been greater, and today’s overwhelming approval of Innovation QNS by the City Planning Commission is an important step toward delivering all of that and more for our neighbors in Astoria,” Kaufman Astoria Studios Vice President Tracy Capune said a statement to Bisnow. “We look forward to working with Council Member Won and our neighbors in the weeks ahead to ensure City Council approval of this $2 billion investment at a critical moment for our community.”

Calls for reforming the rezoning process have been growing after some high-profile blowups over plans to build large new housing projects across the city.

At the start of summer, developer Bruce Teitelbaum withdrew plans for a 917-unit Harlem building with affordable housing and a planned civil rights museum on the corner of West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue after the local council member came out against the project

“It's crazy to go through the [rezoning] process because it is so uncertain, it is so fraught with peril, and there is no predictability or reliability in the process any longer," Teitelbaum told Bisnow last week.

In the Bronx, some locals are trying to block a proposed 339-unit, mixed-income housing development that would bring 94 income-restricted units to the East Bronx neighborhood of Throggs Neck, a project Adams has thrown his support behind.

Not all developments have collapsed through the approval process, however. City Council Member Tiffany Cabán on Tuesday said she will back Halletts North, a Astoria development that would bring 1,400 units to the area. In April, two mixed-use projects in Brooklyn got the green light after the local city council member negotiated for more affordable housing units to be built.