By Malique Morris
On Ditmars Boulevard, a quiet stillness rests over the family homes and small businesses. The local bakery with the endearingly outdated awning has a vibrantly rich history. Just a few blocks down a resident in a straw hat gleefully tends to her lawn in the calm afternoon.
Looming over this peaceful suburban nook, removed from an otherwise largely metropolitan Astoria, is the promise of a contemporary residential building proposed by neighborhood developer Mega Contracting Group. Unlike the typical high-density luxury residence, this modern development, prospectively on 22-60 46th St., will include a community function.
“The key component to the project is a 250-seat theater that will be leased to the Pancyprian Association,” said Emanuel Kokinakis, Development Manager at Mega.
While the Pancyprian Association, an Astoria-based organization preserving Cypriot traditions, will have primary access to the space, the theater will ultimately be communal. “This will be a new space that a lot of groups can utilize,” Kokinakis said. He predicts it will “add great cultural value to the neighborhood.”
However, this proposal may not align with current residential philosophy. Even with the value proposition of a community space, the prospective residence the theater will be attached to stands to modernize a very suburban, low-density part of Astoria. Such modernization could disrupt the area’s historically working-class family-oriented culture.
“Homeowners do not want their quality of life to change,” said Community Board 1 District Manager Florence Koulouris.
Longtime residents are seeing the place they have long called home alter at the hands of gentrification and rapid land development. “The culture in Astoria is wonderful but really threatened,” said Margaret Rodgers, a community activist and Astoria native.
According to Rodgers, a committee member with the Justice for All Coalition, working class families are the spine of Astoria and their interests should be prioritized when new residential structures are introduced, and 22-60 46th St. is no exception. She believes displacement in the area is imminent, “If you don’t have affordable housing for this community’s median income.”
Mega plans on designating 30 percent of its 90 units for affordable housing, based on 70 percent Average Median Income, which complies with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability, and Mandatory and Inclusionary Housing plans. Yet, whether roughly 26 affordable units and a theater is enough to justify the potential impact this luxury building’s presence will have on Ditmars is just one of the developer’s worries.
Construction at 22-60 is hindered by a rezoning contingency that is still pending approval from the community board. “The block is currently zoned manufacturing,” Kokinakis said. “We were looking to bring the block into context” with the new residential building, he added.
Philip Christopher, president of the Pancyprian Association, noted the integral nature of the organization’s partnership with the developer. “Mega figured if they wanted to build something, they needed community support,” Christopher said.
The theater, and the value it can potentially bring to the neighborhood, is Mega’s anchor to get the board to approve the rezoning request necessary to move the project forward. “We have to offer reasons as to why the theater is needed in the community.” Christopher said regarding the upcoming board meeting on Oct. 10th, where the developer will present its proposal to the board and the district’s residents.