Astoria Cove proposal falls short

Astoria Cover rendering.

Astoria Cover rendering. Photo Credit: STUDIO V Architecture

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Residents of Astoria are parsing the blueprints for a luxury, waterfront, 1,700-apartment development known as Astoria Cove that could -- overnight -- infuse the Queens neighborhood with new vitality while changing its character forever.

As envisioned, the complex would come with an East River esplanade open to the public, land for a new public school, retail shopping, a grocery store, and residential towers that contain 20 percent affordable housing.

For a relatively isolated industrial site, this isn't an awful pitch. But developer Alma Realty needs to sweeten the pot. The City Planning Commission held a hearing on the project Wednesday and will make its recommendations after a city-mandated 60-day review period.

Here's what we hope Alma will revise in the meantime:

A stingy affordable-housing component: Last April, Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated a plan for a 30 percent ratio of affordable housing on Brooklyn's Domino Sugar site. Every deal is different. But in Astoria -- where the median income for a family of four is $63,000 -- more than a few families could find themselves priced out if the area starts to boom. So more of the affordable units at Astoria Cove -- priced to attract neighborhood residents -- might provide a cushion. But of course there's a catch. If Alma agrees to boost the number of affordable units, the city will likely need to give the company concessions in return.

Transportation: Astoria Cove would go on a peninsula. The N and F train stations are a sweaty hike. So Alma must provide regular buses to the subways. The city might also ask Alma to help with a ferry service. Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are building an applied science and engineering campus on nearby Roosevelt Island. With decent transportation, Astoria Cove could provide off-campus housing for the institute.

Community Board 1 and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have each turned thumbs down on the Astoria Cove deal. But their reasons focused largely on a lack of solid plans for affordable housing and transportation.

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Here's hoping that Alma Realty returns to the drawing board, huddles with de Blasio, and creates a winner.

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