Jan. 5, 2022 By Christian Murray
The City Council unanimously approved a developer’s plan last month to rezone a section of 31st Street in Astoria—making way for three large buildings that will collectively bring 278 units along the strip.
The city council voted 47 for and zero against the rezoning plan—the final step in the public review process. The vote means the project can now officially move forward.
The rezoning clears the way for MDM Development, an Astoria-based real estate company, to construct three buildings on the east side of 31st Street between Astoria Boulevard and 24th Avenue. Two of the buildings will be 11 stories, the other 12 stories.
The plan calls for 278 apartments, 69 to be affordable, in accordance with the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) requirements. The plan will also bring retail space and community facilities—such as senior and youth centers.
The buildings are slated to go up where the Neptune Diner, Staples and a nearby vacant lot are currently located. The popular diner and Staples will be bulldozed.
Without the upzoning, MDM would still have been able to develop the sites– with about 200 units permitted as of right, according to landuse attorney Frank St. Jacques. However, MDM would not have been required to build the 69 affordable housing units.
The rezoning got the approval of Council Member Tiffany Cabán, despite her saying at a candidate forum on Oct. 19 that the project didn’t have enough affordable units. “We are 67 of the 200-plus units being affordable. That is not good enough.”
Cabán also said that the units were not affordable enough. “It is not affordable housing,” she said. “We need ultra-affordable housing.”
The 69 affordable units, up from the initial 67, will be set aside for low-and-moderate income New Yorkers across a range of incomes, in accordance with Option 1 of the MIH requirements.
There will be 24 units available for households earning up to 40 percent of the Area Median Income — $42,960 for a family of three; 25 units set aside for those earning up to 60 percent AMI — $64,440 for a family of three; and 20 for those earning up to 80 percent AMI — $85,920.
The council vote, however, was held just days after Cabán was sworn into office. The vote was held Dec. 9, while Caban was sworn into office a Dec. 1.
“The project was in its 11th hour when we came into office,” said a Cabán spokesperson. “It was slated for passage and the majority of the [council] body was going to vote for it.”
Cabán’s spokesperson said that Costa Constantinides, the former councilmember, had already negotiated the deal prior to her taking office. Constantinides stepped down from office in April 2021 to take a position as the CEO for the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens.
Cabán’s spokesperson said that the council member was able to secure $250,000 from the developer prior to the vote to go toward upgrading Hoyt Playground, which is located across the street from the project site.
The rezoning had been approved by the City Planning Commission on Dec. 1 and by the Queens Borough President on Oct 29. Community Board 1 rejected the plan on Sept. 21 by a vote of 25 to 4, with four abstentions.
The City Planning Commission, in supporting the rezoning, emphasized the “transit accessibility” of the sites. The project sites are located next to Astoria Boulevard N/W subway and the area is serviced by buses. The commission also believed the rezoning made sense given the wide frontages along 31st Street and Astoria Boulevard.
The Community Board’s biggest concern, however, dealt with the size of the project.
The members viewed the project as being too tall, arguing that it would cause hardship to residents who live in low-rise buildings on adjacent streets. They also noted that the area had already been rezoned in 2010.
CB1’s Land Use and Zoning Committee Chair Elizabeth Erion said prior to the vote that many residents opposed the plan.
Erion said the board had received petitions for and against the project—with 450 signatures in support of it and 225 in opposition. However, she noted that when she analyzed the signatures in support, only 8 of those people lived near the proposed development site. Meanwhile, of the 225 who signed in opposition, 162 of the people who signed it lived in close proximity to the project.
Another concern of the board was that there were too many studios and 1-bedroom units—not enough for families. The project was slightly modified after the community board vote with a reduction in smaller units in favor of 2-unit apartments.
The development consists of three separate buildings on three separate sites.
The building that will replace the Neptune Diner will be 11 stories and consist of approximately 50 units, according to renderings released in September.
The building proposed to go up on the site occupied by Staples (Development 2) will be 12-stories and include about 160 units.
The third building (Development 3) would go up on a vacant lot on 31st Street between 24th Avenue and 23rd Road and will consist of about 75 units and is slated to be 11 stories tall.
The supporters of the project said the buildings would increase the supply of housing and would bring much-needed affordable housing to the area. They also noted that development of these sites was inevitable, given its location.