The eco-friendly form of construction known as passive house is still rare in New York City. It saves building owners more money in the long run by cutting down on energy costs. But construction costs developers more up front, because passive house demands a special kind of ventilation system, several additional inches of insulation, and extra thick windows. Few affordable housing developers are willing to take on the challenge, but HANAC – an organization that builds senior housing throughout Queens – has decided to make its low-income project in Corona a passive house building.
The eight-story development will replace a community garden at 54-15 101st Street, between Lewis and Martense Avenues, not far from Flushing Meadows Park. The community garden will move down the street to Corona MAC Park, and the new building will offer 68 apartments for seniors who earn $30,250 a year or less.
It will also have a 5,000-square-foot preschool on the ground floor. A 4,000-square-foot rear yard will be fenced off into separate spaces for the school and the seniors, but a gate in the fence will be able to slide open, allowing the two generations to mix.
Units will break down into 61 one-bedrooms, six studios, and one two-bedroom for the super. One-bedrooms will measure roughly 600 square feet and rent for only $737 a month, and 500-square-foot studios will go for $686.
The architects, Think Architecture and Design, wanted to create a building that didn’t overwhelm the neighborhood, which is mostly populated by row houses and three- or four-story apartment buildings. They likely wanted to set the building apart from the Queenswood complex across the street, which includes two eight-story residential buildings and occupies a full block, thanks to its big parking lot.
“We were worried that the building would seem massive and overscaled,” Jack Esterson, a partner at Think, told YIMBY. The developer secured a rezoning in order to make the project financially feasible, and the new R6 zoning allows HANAC to build 68 units instead of the 35 that were allowed under the previous zoning.
So the building is set back after the fourth floor, creating a communal fifth-floor terrace with a planted green roof. The facade is a mix of metal and wood panels, meant “to trick your eye into thinking it’s an assemblage of different buildings instead of one building.”
Solar panels will cover the roof and generate enough energy to heat the building’s hot water, but the development will still rely mostly on traditional electricity and gas. The project will also incorporate typical passive house features that keep the building at a comfortable temperature year-round, like triple-glazed windows and an energy recovery ventilation system. The building will also have an energy efficient HVAC system, using a technology called variable refrigerant flow (VRF).
HANAC also managed to get a waiver for parking, meaning that they won’t have to build any on-site. After the local community board worried about losing street parking, the developer agreed to lease 15 parking spots from Queenswood across the street. “Creating parking would have destroyed the garden in the back,” explained Esterson, who added that few elderly residents drove.
New building applications were filed last month, and the developer hopes to break ground early next year. Construction is expected to take 18 to 20 months and finish by the summer of 2017.