Borough Board reviews Sunnyside Yard master plan
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 25, 2020 | 736 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee convened the monthly meeting of the Borough Board last week.

But rather than meet in person, Lee’s office organized the meeting via telephone and video conferencing, allowing representatives from each of the borough’s 14 community boards to participate.

“We want to make sure the government still runs,” she said. “It must not shut down.”

The Borough Board heard from Eleni DeSiervo, vice president of government and community relations at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) about their recently unveiled master plan for Sunnyside Yard.

DeSiervo described the Sunnyside Yard plan as a project for “the next few generations.” She said it will serve as a framework for future decision-making.

“This is about preserving the city’s options to create new land when it becomes necessary,” she said. “Sunnyside Yard is an opportunity to plan equitably for the future.”

The master plan calls for building a new regional rail hub, Sunnyside Station, that would connect western Queens to other areas of the northeast on the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and other rail lines.

It also calls for building 12,000 units of affordable housing. A quarter of the units would serve families making below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), while another quarter would be reserved for families making below 30 percent of the AMI. All rental units would be rent-stabilized.

The other 6,000 homes would be part of an affordable home ownership plan modeled after the Mitchell-Lama program. That program would target families making around 100 percent of the AMI.

The plan would prioritize minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) developers, particularly nonprofits. EDC will also explore creating community land trusts.

“It’s a mix of income that matches the current landscape in western Queens,” DeSiervo said.

Other amenities in the plan include 60 acres of new open space, new social infrastructure like schools and libraries and more.

DeSiervo said the master plan was grounded in community priorities. Through four workshops, three public meetings, a digital town hall and over 100 public interviews, EDC officials heard about the need for affordable housing, open space, transportation, schools and infrastructure.

In terms of scale, DeSiervo said, Sunnyside Yard would be low-density on the edge near Sunnyside Gardens, with medium density in the middle part of the neighborhood. The area closest to Long Island City will have the tallest and densest buildings.

“The goal here is to match the existing context around the yard,” she said.

EDC officials also heard about the desire to make Sunnyside Yard feel like a part of Queens, rather than Hudson Yards. DeSiervo said the master plan puts all of the borough and city’s values for the project on paper.

“This will guide decision-making over generations,” she said. “This is a plan for the next 50 to 100 years.”

A few Borough Board members asked about specific parts of the plan, including for more details on senior housing and transit lines.

Vincent Arcuri, chair of Community Board 5, raised questions about the cost of decking over the 180-acre railyard, as well as ventilating the rail tunnel.

DeSiervo said Amtrak has been part of the discussion and would inform the analysis about the deck. She also admitted that decking over an active railyard would be “incredibly expensive.”

“But we believe the city is running out of land and needs to create new land,” she said. “As time goes on, this will be a more viable option.”

Lee said she found the master plan to be “pretty aggressive, very thoughtful and bold.”

“It is an impressive plan,” she said.

The acting borough president said there appeared to be “no stone unturned” in creating a comprehensive framework that would allow the borough to be globally competitive. Lee also said the project would substantially change the landscape of Sunnyside, Queens and New York City as a whole.

“I believe the future of New York is Queens, and we should expect nothing less,” she said. “We would love to lead the way to make sure our region is globally competitive.”
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