May 21, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The public will have a chance to weigh in on what is proving to be a controversial proposal in Long Island City involving a private developer’s plans to build two large towers in Court Square after a deal struck with the city for its air rights.
The public hearing, as part of the public review process for the project, will take place at 6:30 p.m. on May 30 at CUNY Law School, located at 2 Court Square West.
The Lions Group, the developer behind the project, will present its plans to build 25 and 49 story towers at 27-01 and 26-31 Jackson Ave., respectively, for a total of 481 units between the two buildings.
The proposal, which factors in the thousands of square feet of the city’s transferred air rights to the sites, would result in a project with roughly three times the number of units than what the developers had originally planned.
The city’s deal with the developer is based on adding affordable units to the city’s housing supply. For this project, the city is requiring about 40 percent of the roughly 360,000 square feet of transferred air rights to be used for affordable units. In all, between 150 to 156 apartments, or about 30 percent of the development, would be income-restricted.
The air rights in question come from the city’s plots under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge ramps next to the developer’s Jackson Avenue sites. While the plots hold development rights, the city considers them unbuildable because of the ramps themselves.
The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development is the agency leading the project, which requires public review from Community Board 2, the Queens Borough President, the City Planning Commission and eventually the City Council to go forth.
The project has just started its public review process, but many are already opposed to the city’s deal with the developer, questioning the lack of public input on the proposal and its potential effect on a crowded neighborhood.
The Court Square Civic Association (CSCA), for example, has recently organized an online “Take Action” guide for locals to learn about the proposal. The group has also outlined two demands for the city regarding the project—to turn the area under the ramps, currently in use by the DOT to hold maintenance equipment, into public space, and for the affordable units to truly be affordable.
“We’re sacrificing a lot here in the name of affordable housing,” said Pedro Gomez, CSCA President, at Community Board 2’s May 16 Land Use meeting. “We’re a community that’s hurting…we’re increasing the density of the neighborhood and adding more strain with no added immediate benefit to us.”
Gomez noted that his group has been fighting for years to have the lots under the ramp be converted into green spaces.
“We really need to see a plan to turn those into green spaces,” Gomez said. “Right now, I don’t see this proposal solving that issue.”
While the transfer of air rights does not technically stop the city from developing the sites under the ramps into public spaces, the DOT has a strong hold on the lots for the next several years, meaning the community’s demands for a green space likely won’t happen there anytime soon.
The Lions Group, however, said it is willing to partner with the civic group to see that the space be used “in the best possible way for this community”.
“We’re asking for it just like you are,” said Aaron Shirian, Managing Director of the Lions Group. “Believe me.”
Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, which largely spoke out against the project during an overview presented in April, ultimately voted no on the proposal unless the developer returns with a project that considers community needs, including deeper affordability, and more units of affordable housing.
Community Board 2 is expected to vote in its entirely on the proposal during the June 7 meeting.