Developers of Silvercup West Under Fire for Omitting Affordable Housing

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The New York Sun

After a frosty reception before the city’s planning commission yesterday, the developers of the $1 billion Silvercup West mixed-use project on the Queens waterfront will have to think about including affordable housing.

Brothers Alan and Stuart Suna are seeking to move ahead with their plan to build nearly 3 million square feet of apartments, offices, film studios, and retail space in three towers on a 6-acre site just south of the Queensboro Bridge.

Several planning commissioners, as well as members of the local community board who testified yesterday, asked the developers to convert some of the planned 1,000 market-rate apartments into affordable units.

The developers said it is not economically feasible to subsidize both studio space and housing. “It just doesn’t pencil in,” Alan Suna said. “The way that we are able to do this is to use market-rate housing to subsidize the studios.”

The plan requires several zoning changes and needs to win the approval of the planning commission by July 18 before heading to the City Council for the final nod.

The Suna brothers started Silvercup Studios in the early 1980s, about a half a mile to the east of the proposed project site.With “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” that facility has helped spur a growing film business in New York.

The Silvercup West project is expected to create an estimated 2,200 construction jobs and 3,900 permanent jobs. The developer said the commercial tower could be scrapped if funding is scarce.

The film business in New York employs about 100,000 people and earns more than $5 billion, according to Mr. Suna. He said the city needs additional infrastructure to accommodate the growing business.

The president of the Partnership for New York City, Kathryn Wylde, said her group has studied the economic viability of studio space in New York.

“Traditionally, every film studio that has been built in this city has been subsidized significantly,” she said. “Film studios are losses; the money is in the filmmaking.”

Ms. Wylde said the project’s critics have a choice. “Do you want affordable housing or do you want film studios?” she said.

Yesterday, planning commissioners applauded most aspects of the plan and the design. But some speakers felt the plan would turn the Queens waterfront into a gated community and set a precedent for the future residential development that is expected to follow on the heels of Silvercup West.

“We are very concerned that this will be only for the affluent,” said Patrick O’Brien, a member of the local community board, which approved the project overwhelmingly, but on the condition that affordable units are included.

Some planning commissioners also worried about the bulk and height of the project.When completed, the towers will be just less than 600 feet, nearly as tall as the Citigroup Build ing that dominates the Queens skyline, and well above the landmark towers of the Queensboro Bridge.

Commissioner Kenneth Buckles asked that the developers try to provide economic opportunities for the residents of the Queensbridge Houses, the largest low-income housing project in the country, which is nearby the proposed site.

Silvercup West would be the first of several New York City projects for architect Lord Richard Rogers. Mr. Rogers, who designed the Millennium Dome in London, is also the architect of the planned Jacob K. Javits Center expansion, one of Larry Silverstein’s planned commercial towers at ground zero, and a redesign of the East River waterfront downtown.

At yesterday’s hearing, Mr. Rogers said the Silvercup West would be a gateway building to Queens, combining elements from the Queensboro Bridge with an independent style.

“In the end, there will be a dialogue on both sides, as there are on most major rivers, like the Thames,” he said.

The New York Sun

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