Jan. 21, 2022 By Allie Griffin
Council Member Lynn Schulman appears to support a rezoning application that calls for a 15-story mixed-use development on Queens Boulevard—after an agreement was struck with the developer that would bring affordable housing to residents at lower incomes than what was initially proposed.
Schulman said the development company, RJ Capital Holdings, operating under the name Trylon LLC, is “moving in the right direction” after it agreed to offer some apartments in its proposed Queens Boulevard development to renters who make incomes as low as 40 percent of the area medium income.
“After extensive negotiations and discussions with Trylon LLC, I am happy to announce that the zoning application for 98-81 Queens Boulevard has been modified to allow for deeply affordable housing that will enable more families to be able to live in the Forest Hills community,” Schulman said in an announcement Wednesday.
The application for the 144-unit development must be approved by the City Council in order to move forward because it requires a zoning change.
The council is expected to vote on the application in the coming months and Schulman’s vote — which appears to be favorable — will likely determine the outcome. The council typically votes in lockstep with the member who represents the district where the development is proposed in a practice known as member deference.
Schulman stopped short of committing her full approval but spoke favorably of the developer’s willingness to work with the community.
“There are a lot of steps before the Council votes on this, but the developer is certainly moving in the right direction and is showing their commitment to work with the community,” she said in a statement to the Queens Post.
The proposal calls for the demolition of several buildings on a large triangular block occupied by the Tower Diner, Ohr Natan Synagogue and various small businesses to make way for apartments and retail space.
The rezoning plan was rejected by Community Board 6 last month (20 against, 19 in favor) due, in part, to a lack of “deeply” affordable housing.
The proposal was also rejected by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. He recommended against it on Jan. 7 on the basis that it “fell short of providing deeply affordable housing.”
The board’s vote and Richards’ recommendation are merely advisory, with the council vote being the ultimate determinant.
The affordable housing component, however, has changed given Schulman’s agreement.
RJ Capital Holdings originally planned to offer 44 units of the 144 total apartments in its development to residents who earn 70, 80 or 90 percent of the area median income in accordance with the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Option 2 requirement. For a family of four, 80 percent of the AMI equates to $95,440.
Community Board 6 wanted the developer to offer some of those units to residents who earn 60 percent or less of the area median income. At 60 percent AMI, the threshold for a family of four would be $71,580.
The board was unable to convince the developers to lower the threshold for its “affordable” units. However, Schulman was able to get RJ Capital to agree.
— Queens Community Board 6 (@QueensCB6) January 19, 2022
Under the new proposal, the affordable units will be offered to families who make “an average” of 60 percent of the AMI, in accordance with the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Option 1 requirement.
Furthermore, 11 percent of the affordable units will be offered to families who make 40 percent the AMI and 7 percent of the affordable units will be offered to families who make 100 percent of the AMI.
The revised deal, Schulman said, will bring approximately 40 affordable units, with the majority of those units reserved for households making between $30,000 and $70,000 per year.
“I ran for City Council as a proponent of affordable housing and community involvement in the development of our neighborhoods,” Schulman, who took office this month, said. “The outcome for this proposed project is the first example of that commitment.”
The application is currently awaiting a vote within the City Planning Commission before it is turned over to the City Council for the ultimate say.
Schulman noted that there are other conditions requested by Community Board 6 that “are still being explored”.
For instance, Community Board 6 members called for the developer to incorporate some of the distinct architectural elements of both the Tower Diner and the original Trylon Theater — where the synagogue is now located — into its new building design.
The request aims to appease dozens of residents who are opposed to the demolition of the buildings.
They say the architecture of the two buildings is an important part of the neighborhood. For instance, the Tower Diner features an iconic clock tower and the synagogue occupies the building that once was the historic Art Deco-styled Trylon Theater, which opened in 1939 and closed in 1999.
A petition to save the buildings and small businesses located on the triangular block — bordered by Queens Boulevard, 66th Avenue and 99th Street — has garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
However, the city can’t stop RJ Capital from demolishing the buildings — and putting up a new development — since the property is not landmarked.
RJ Capital can build an apartment complex, albeit smaller, as of right. In fact, the company said it would construct a 103-unit building with zero affordable apartments if its rezoning application were to be rejected.