Local businesses display their work at QEDC’s Queens Rises Higher

Creativity and dedication shine through the stories of local business owners

By Juan Arturo Trillo

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Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District played host to Queens Rises Higher, a street market by the Queens Economic Development Corporation that allows local creators and business owners to exhibit and sell their passions and products.

Market in Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District

The market occurred on Saturday, June 25 from noon to 5 p.m., and included live music. The businesses encompassed various sectors, including art, food, and others.

Bianca, founder of Bianca’s Design Shop, said “I just aim to support and be inclusive to all.” Through Bianca’s Design Shop, she creates apparel and accessories that are inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bianca loves the sense of community which can be found in Queens, and hopes that it continues to remain inclusive.

Gisela’s small business, “Scent by Heaven,” is a small candle store that began in Forest Hills in 2019.

Talisa’s setup for Almonte Studios at the fair

However, candle making had been one of her hobbies before she started the business. It is one of her ways of expressing her creativity.

She started the business so that she could spend more time with her son, who has autism.

Now, Gisela loves that she gets to pursue a passion of hers while also dedicating time to her son.

Illustrator Talisa Almonte founded Almonte Studios, a business where she sells various art prints, earrings, stickers, stationery, and “whatever [she] can get [her] work on.”

Because Talisa does not have a brick-and-mortar store, she appreciates that the fair allows her to connect with the Queens community and other local businesses.

“There’s really no place like Queens,” Talisa said.

Thumbs down for Innovation Queens

CB1 votes down proposed $2 billion redevelopment

A rally preceding last week’s Community Board 1 meeting pitted supporters and adversaries of Innovation QNS against each other, with mixed feelings about the project that seeks to rezone five city blocks to build a mixed-use residential and commercial district in Astoria.

Some seven hours later, the board voted 24-8 in disapproval of the project, marking a setback for the proposed $2 billion redevelopment.

Before the roll call vote was called, Elizabeth Erion, co-chair of the board’s Land Use and Zoning committee, labeled the project as “unprecedented” for the western Queens community.

“We as a board over the years have supported large scale developments,” Erion said. “We supported the Astoria Cove and recently the Hallets North development and we’re open to redeveloping areas of Astoria and Long Island City, as long as the development is appropriate, is contextual and it isn’t overbearing.”

The board was first introduced to the renovation project in December 2019, whose developers include the trio of Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties, and BedRock Real Estate Partners.

Earlier in June, the board’s Land Use committee voted 7-2 to not approve the project.

Erion cited longstanding issues that the board took into consideration, including the scale of the development, size of the buildings, the density of the project, as well as economic impacts it would have on the community.

“In those early meetings, and even now, some of the issues still remain,” Erion said.

She cited a May subcommittee meeting where a consensus was reached on how to proceed with the project’s recommendation.

“We agreed at that particular meeting, that the development as was proposed, as it was presented to us, was really an inappropriate development for the community and would have an impact on it in negative ways,” Erion said.

The proposed $2 billion development would allow for the construction of 12 towers between Northern Boulevard and 37th Street, ranging from eight to 27 stories tall. The redevelopment project also calls for 725—or 25 percent—of the 2,845 units to be affordable for those making $50,000 annually, and 60 percent of units to be within the price range of area median income.

Developers also tout the creation of 3,700 construction jobs that could last up to a decade, as well as 1,700 permanent jobs created. In addition, two acres of open space for play and leisure is included in the project.

CB1 board member Katie Ellman says that more open spaces in Astoria is a good thing, but cautioned her fellow board members on what the tradeoff for that would be under this redevelopment project.

“The tradeoff of what comes with that will lead to more inequity, displacement of residents, and just a complete change of our community,” Ellman, a third-generation Astoria resident, said. “So many of us are being pushed out due to the high cost of rent and high cost of living, especially families with young children. So what do we want our community to look like in the next year, five years, ten years? A vibrant community that is diverse in backgrounds, diverse in ages and diverse in incomes. My fear with this is that it will change the entire scope of Astoria.”

She added, “I can barely afford to live here now, how many of us will be pushed out?”

Board member Andre Stith voted in favor of the redevelopment, saying that he would not allow the project to dictate what his children can or can not aspire to.

“I’m not going to tell them that just because something is new and shiny, that they can’t afford it and it’s not for them,” Stith said. “I’m going to tell my kids to go out and get.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, which ran several hours long, Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech voiced his approval of Innovation QNS, saying that the project does not include or require public funds for it to be implemented.

“There are a number of projects whose benefits do not come near Innovation QNS, that are being put forth and executed across the U.S. in places like Austin, Texas,” Grech said. “This is a great project that will create 2,000 apartments including 700 affordable homes.”

The project application will now receive a recommendation from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who has 30 days from the Wednesday, June 21 meeting to submit it. Next in the Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP, the City Planning Commission will vote on the project. If approved, then it would be sent to the City Council for approval and a vote that would have lasting effects in western Queens.

Some opponents of the redevelopment plan, like Astoria resident Gil Lopez, say the ULURP process is broken, and called on their neighbors to continue to express their concerns with the developers.

“MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) and AMI (area median income) are nothing more than constructs of the real estate lobbyists,” Lopez said. “They are not affordable to the actual residents here, and that must be reformed.”

Lopez called the public engagement effort by developers as nothing more than a “PR stunt”.

“If the city and the community board want more open space, let’s take back the street we gave to Kaufman Astoria Studios and give it back to the people as a park,” Lopez said.

On Thursday, Queens Borough President Richards will hold a virtual public hearing on land use related to the proposed Innovation QNS applications.

Developers are specifically seeking a zoning map amendment, a series of three zoning text amendments and a series of zoning special permits pursuant to the large scale general development regulations in the zoning resolution.

A public live stream of the public hearing will be available at www.queensbp.org on Thursday, June 30 at 9:30 a.m.

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