Far-left Council member approves 1,400-unit Queens development

Tiffany Cabán charts path for progressives to back mixed-income housing

New York City Council member Tiffany Cabán along with a rendering of the Hallets North development (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty Images, Studio V Architecture PLLC)
New York City Council member Tiffany Cabán along with a rendering of the Halletts North development (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty Images, Studio V Architecture PLLC)

One of New York’s most progressive City Council members said she would approve a million-square-foot development in her Queens district, a big win for mixed-income housing at a time when other projects face contentious rezonings.

Council member Tiffany Cabán on Tuesday announced her support for Halletts North, a 1,400-unit development that will bring three towers and an esplanade to a rapidly developing peninsula just north of Astoria. Cabán’s support essentially ends a nine-year odyssey for developer Boris Aronov of Astoria Owners LLC, who encountered pushback from some locals over the bulk, design and affordability of the project.

Cabán’s decision to support Halletts North, which will be built with union labor and provide 350 permanently affordable apartments, charts a path for her progressive colleagues such as Council member Julie Won, who is weighing a decision on the $2 billion Innovation QNS megaproject.

Cabán tweeted that 20 percent of units will be affordable to households earning an average of 40 percent of the area median income, plus another 5 percent at 80 percent of AMI. That’s much deeper affordability than city law requires of projects that benefit from rezoning.

While Halletts North is not the social housing Cabán campaigned on building, it is far better than the alternative, the Council member reasoned.

“The best we can hope for without rezoning is a “last mile” facility where some massive corporation like Amazon would pay our neighbors garbage wages for nonstop, back-breaking work,” Cabán wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread Tuesday morning. “A No vote would have been a vote for that. I cannot and will not in good conscience vote for that.”

She added that the project would replace “a sacrifice zone of shuttered industry and vacant lots” that “contributes nothing to the community” and “prohibits our neighbors from accessing the waterfront.”

Halletts North dates to 2013, when Aronov purchased the land from Queens-based LeNoble Lumber for $26.5 million. The seller had previously asked $80 million, but the price fell because of the difficulties facing any developer hoping to build housing on the industrially zoned, polluted site.

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Aronov finished cleaning it up in 2019 and set about rezoning it, a process that in New York City takes an average of two and a half years, can easily cost $1 million or more and has an uncertain outcome — one that depends on support of the local Council member.

Aronov won over the local community board after increasing the number of two- and three-bedroom affordable units at Halletts North and improving the planned waterfront access for pedestrians. After the board’s 19-14 vote in favor in April, Borough President Donovan Richards threw his support behind the project. With Cabán’s backing, Halletts North will get the full Council’s blessing tomorrow.

Barring any hiccups, Halletts Point will soon get hundreds of apartments, 1,800 square feet of retail and a 41,000-square-foot waterfront esplanade. The project’s three planned towers range from 23 stories to 31 stories and include space for a job incubator run by community groups Urban Upbound and Zone 126.

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“The Council member understands that our city is facing an unprecedented housing crisis but has maintained that it is equally important that the local community also benefit from new development,” said Jim Hedden, a representative of the development team.

Halletts Point largely contains industrial and manufacturing buildings, with some low- and medium-density residential development, but towers are sprouting. The Durst Organization is constructing a seven-building, 2,000-unit project on the peninsula, and Halletts North is bounded by the long-stalled Astoria Cove development site, which fell by the wayside under the de Blasio administration.

A pro-housing group cheered Cabán’s decision.

“The Council member showed true leadership today,” said Logan Phares, political director at Open New York. “Instead of allowing this site to fall to the wasteful fate of an unsafe, last-mile facility, supporting this project will create deeply affordable housing, new community space and financial support for Astoria Houses,” she said, referring to the nearby NYCHA development that will receive a $1 million investment as part of the deal.

While announcing her support for the project, Cabán released a 10-step housing policy agenda. In the brief, she calls for Good Cause eviction protections, eliminating parking minimums, creating a social housing fund to provide construction loans to publicly owned housing projects and a public land bank to maintain and develop vacant land, among other lofty goals.