The mixed-use 2.2 million-square-foot megaproject known as Astoria Cove is widely seen as the first test of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary zoning program. The proposal by a consortium of developers led by Alma Realty includes 345 affordable units (or 20 percent of the roughly 1,700 units), a number that affordable housing advocates and elected officials have said is too low. Despite these concerns — and neighborhood protests — the City Planning Commission gave its blessing to the project last month. The matter now rests in the hands of the New York City Council. The council is expected to cast a final vote on the project at the end of November. With that decision fast approaching, The Real Deal compiled a list of the key players in the battle over Astoria Cove.
Borough President Melinda Katz
Until the proposals for Astoria Cove include more affordable housing — a larger percentage than the currently proposed 20 percent — the Queens borough president and former Queens councilwoman has said she will not support the plan. The influential politician advised against approving the plan in its current form in a non-binding vote in July. Besides a lack of affordable housing, Katz has also cited a negative impact on transportation as a reason to amend the plans.
Before she served as borough president, Katz was a council member for eight years, also serving as the chair of the Land Use Committee. In a prior interview with TRD, she said that about a third of the apartments at the complex should be below market rate, rather than the 20 percent currently on the table.
Councilman Costa Constantinides
Constantinides, a first-term Democrat from Queens who represents Astoria as well as portions of Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Woodside, agrees with Katz about the percentage of affordable units at Astoria Cove.
“If the development is not integrated into our neighborhood in a way that benefits the community,” Constantinides posted on his Facebook wall in August, “I will be unable to support it.” Besides more affordable units, he said he wants to see a change in pricing. Under the current plan, the rent for an affordable one-bedroom unit would be $2,700 per month. A three-bedroom apartment below market rate would rent for $3,800 a moth
“These rates are actually above market for the vast majority of my community,” Constantinides said during the hearing on the project.
Constantinides’ vote is expected to influence the decision of his Council colleagues. One of his colleagues, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, said he wants to see the developers hire union workers for the construction of the project, which will likely take 10 years. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has also demanded more affordable housing.
Community Board 1 Chairman Vinicio Donato
The community board, lead by chairman Vinicio Donato, unanimously voted against the proposal during a June meeting. Given the 44-0 tally, the members made their position clear. One of the main sticking points: the council members are concerned that construction jobs on the project won’t go to locals. The community board’s vote, however, was not binding.
Queens Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Friedman
In a recent letter to the editor of the Queens Tribune, Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce Jack Friedman expressed the Chamber’s support for the plan in its current form. Friedman argued that Astoria Cove — with its housing, its school and its open space — would enhance the borough and bring more improvements.
“As part of the proposed infrastructure enhancements, there will be eight sewer projects in the current plan to help mitigate neighborhood flooding,” Friedman wrote, “nine-hundred garage spaces for local residents and visitors, including retail shoppers. Without Astoria Cove, none of these improvements would even be looked at.”
City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod
Despite the lack of support for the proect from the community board and the borough president, the City Planning Commission — under the leadership of Carl Weisbrod — approved the plan, sending it through to the city council as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Given Astoria Cove’s status as the first project under the mayor’s mandatory inclusionary zoning plan, Weisbrod told the New York Observer that Astoria Cove is a “harbinger” of future rezonings.
Alma Realty’s Steve Valiotis and John Mavroudis
While a consortium named 2030 Astoria Developers LLC is the official name of the group behind the plan, Long Island City-based Alma Realty is the lead developer on the project. Greek-born Steve Valiotis founded Alma, which means “jump” in Greek, around three decades ago. Alma is the largest landlord in Paterson, N.J., where it reportedly owns 2.6 million square feet of real estate. John Mavroudis is Astoria Cove’s project manager and one of the executives at Alma.
The developers’ project is slated to include a 456-seat school as well as nearly two acres of open space. Under the current proposal, Astoria Cove will also house a 25,000-square-foot grocery store. Executives at Alma have argued that the project will complement Hallets Point, a nearby site where the Durst Organization recently bought a majority stake. In an interview with Crain’s, Mavroudis said the two projects will feed off each other and will result in a continuation of the Astoria Park waterfront esplanade.
In response to criticism about the number of affordable apartments at the complex, the developers have pointed out that they will not be receiving any subsidies from the city. The developers have proposed including a ferry terminal in the project, as well as shuttle buses from the complex to the nearest subway station.
Studio V Architecture founder and principal Jay Valgora
Studio V is responsible for the proposed design of the project, which currently includes three shiny buildings that will stand somewhere between 26 and 32 stories high. The development will also boast a tree-lined waterfront. Presenting the plan recently in front of the City Council’s subcommittee on Land Use, Zoning and Franchises, Valgora said that people have “forgotten” this part of Astoria. Currently, the waterfront area is inaccessible and surrounded by wire fencing.