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Cove developers sent back to drawing board

By Dan Orlando

City councillors on Monday sent Astoria Cove developer Alma Realty back to the drawing board with plans for a 1,700 unit Queens waterfront development.

Multiple council members pledged to vote against the project unless Alma increases the number of affordable apartments that it plans to include in the 2.2. million s/f development and commits to hiring union laborers.

“The current proposal includes affordable apartments that will actually be too expensive for the area and doesn’t capture what real Astorians need,ˮ said Councilman Costa Constantinides.

“The development, done correctly, has the opportunity to be a transformative moment for us but only if built to the highest standards. I cannot support the proposal as it currently sits with the Council.”

Astoria Cove rendering
Astoria Cove rendering

The comments came during the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises which has the final municipal green light that is needed before Alma can move forward with its plan.

Last month, 10 out of 13 members of the City Planning Commission supported Alma’s request to build the residential property in a commercial zone.

In keeping with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to make affordable housing a mandatory piece of new projects, Alma has agreed to set aside 20 percent of the development’s units for affordable housing, but both the council and groups such as Build Up NYC believe more can be done, especially since a portion of the affordable apartments could run as high as $2,700 per month.

Community Board 1 and Borough President Melinda Katz are among those who have voted against the proposal citing the developer’s lack of commitment to affordable housing and history of non-union bully tactics.

Build Up NYC president Gary LaBarbera said the City Council should vote no on the Alma proposal as it stands. “Alma Realty should not be granted permission to develop Astoria Cove until they commit to the good jobs and affordable housing working families need in Astoria and across the city,” said LaBarbera.

The construction lobbying group also wants assurances that Alma will commit to “good jobs with fair pay, benefits and state-approved apprenticeship and training programs.ˮ

According to Build Up NYC, workers at an Alma development in Far Rockaway have not received a raise in four years. Their union, 32BJ SEIU has taken legal action, claiming that workers on the site were forced to sign a petition denouncing the union and the current collective bargaining agreement. The National Labor Relations Board is set to hear the case against Alma before the year’s end.

Build UP NYC claims the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development has issued more than 1,200 violations to New York City properties owned or managed by Alma Realty and entities associated with it since 2009. These violations remain open as of June 2014. In 2003, then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio named two LLCs controlled by Alma Realty’s CEO as some of NYC’s worst landlords.

Gary Labarbera
Gary Labarbera

“Alma’s track record with workers and their safety raises leaves a lot to be desired and they should not be allowed to build in Astoria Cove just yet,” said Kyle Bragg, secretary-treasurer of 32BJ SEIU,.

“Why should we put up with a rich real estate developer who hasn’t shown any respect for workers, tenants or the communities where they operate? How else can we hold them accountable and trust that they’ll do the right thing in Astoria Cove?”

Alma did not respond to request for comment, however, the company has previously defended its current plan, arguing that their lack of government subsidy gave them leeway and that they were open to union labor despite not yet making a formal commitment.

Should the project be approved, it will be constructed in four phases with residents beginning to move in at some time in 2017. The development would not be completely finished until 2023.

A final decision on Astoria Cove is expected by the City Council by the end of November.

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