April 24, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A developer has plans to construct two high-rise towers near Queens Plaza following a deal struck with the city for air rights.
The towers, planned to rise 25 and 49 stories at 27-01 and 26-31 Jackson Ave., respectively, would hold 481 units combined with the city’s added air rights—roughly three times more units than what is currently permitted, according to the developer.
As part of the deal, the developer is required to use around 40 percent of the city’s transferred air rights to build roughly 150 affordable units in the planned two-tower development. The city’s air rights come from its parcels under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge approach ramps adjacent to the private developer’s two sites. The city, however, cannot build on the parcels because of the ramps themselves.
The project is being run by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and requires public review to go forth given the disposition of city-owned air rights.
While the project has not yet entered its public process period, and is expected to do so in two weeks, representatives from the HPD, the Department of City Planning, and the property owners themselves gave an overview of their plan to Community Board 2’s Land Use meeting last week.
Perris Straughter, an HPD planner, said the project is part of the city’s efforts to increase affordable housing units, and dates back to 2014, when an RFP for the air rights under the ramp was released by the Economic Development Corporation.
“Obviously we can’t use them,” Straughter said of the air rights. “We can’t put a building on it…rather than seeking money for development rights, the RFP basically said, ‘Can you give us some affordable housing?’”
He added that the RFP was only available for property owners adjacent to the city-owned parcels, and that the project was then transferred from the EDC to the HPD.
The Lions Group, a real estate agency with several developments across Long Island City, and owners of the Jackson Avenue lots, responded to the RFP, and began negotiating with the city for several years on the project’s size and number of affordable units.
Aaron Shirian, Managing Director of the Lions Group, said the properties were purchased about five years ago with the intention of developing as-of-right, market rate condos the agency has typically pursued—usually no more than 10 to 15 stories tall.
“We decided to hold off to have a conversation,” Shirian said.
The Lions Group joined with Fetner Properties, a real estate group with experience in affordable housing, and eventually came to an agreement with the city where it would transfer 356,497 square feet of their development rights under the ramp to the Lions Group.
The roughly 150 to 160 affordable units under the proposal, or 30 percent of the development, would be priced at 115 percent of the Area Median Income. A family of three, for example, would need an income of $98,785 to qualify for a unit.
Straughter explained, however, that the project is not part of the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing program, but mirrors its affordability terms.
While Straughter hailed the project for making affordable units out of unusable development rights, members of the Land Use Committee overwhelmingly panned the idea.
“It’s not what the community would prefer, that’s number one,” said Lisa Deller, Chair of the Land Use Committee. “Number two, you get this huge bump of market rate units that you’re going to sell. There’s no comparability—what we’re getting is not what we’re looking for, and what you’re getting is a really nice deal.”
Straughter said the city is getting the best affordability package it can, and that the plan ultimately allows for affordable housing units when the developer’s plan would have initially seen none.
Still, the committee said the city is still doing a disservice to the community.
“Has the city considered the fact that while you’re creating so called affordable housing, you’re also increasing the un-affordability of the entire neighborhood around it?” said Kenny Greenberg.
The Lions Group and Fetner Properties said the plan is as simple as the development’s market rate housing subsidizing the affordable units.
But Deller rejected the notion, calling the argument “ridiculous” and urging the city to think of a better affordability plan.
The project is expected to be presented to the full board in May once its ULURP application becomes certified.