Astoria Scrap: Cars v. Grandma

Every student in Economics 101 learns about the choice of Guns or Butter: A society at its limits can have more of one and less of another, but not more of both at the same time. New York's choices are different but similarly constrained. In Astoria, for example, there's now a dust-up between people who use a municipal lot to park their cars and a nonprofit that wants to build on that site affordable housing for senior citizens. The issue is so delicate that while Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., is pushing the housing development, his brother and law partner Paul Vallone voted against the project at the local community board.

For years, the city has been offering municipal parking lots for development. The irony is that the Astoria deal—in which the Department of Transportation has transferred its property to Housing Preservation and Development, which in turn intends to hand the area to HANAC, the Hellenic-American Neighborhood Action Committee—is taking place under the state's Urban Development Action Area law. This was intended to be used on areas that are "slum or blighted" and whose "existence constitutes a serious and growing menace." But of course, the problem in Astoria for parkers and renters alike is not blight but a very hot housing market that has put a steep premium on space.

HANAC, which holds millions of dollars in city contracts, intends to build 183 apartments for homeless senior citizens, as well as provide meals, a gym, arts & crafts activities and an on-site medical center for its residents. But that will mean a loss of at least 61 parking spaces. DOT claims the lot is only half-utilized, but area businesses say it's still essential. "Where will Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and my staff park?" asked radiologist Jay Tartel at a recent hearing about the project at Queens Borough Hall, where HANAC brought in dozens of seniors to help make its case. "Would they want their mothers to get into senior housing?" asked gray-haired Pauline Valenti of the project's opponents.

A compromise is reportedly in the works, although there's only so much wiggle room. "At the end of the day we need affordable senior residences in Astoria and that is going to take priority over parking spaces," says Councilman Vallone. HANAC executive director John Kaiteris did not return three calls for comment over the past two weeks.

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