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City Presents Sunnyside Yards as An ‘Enormous Opportunity’, Many Remain Unconvinced

80 percent of the 180-acre Sunnyside Yard can be developed, according to the EDC (Source: EDC)

March 31, 2019 By Christian Murray

Hundreds of residents packed out P.S. 166 in Astoria last Tuesday to provide their feedback on what they would like to see—or not see—on the 180-acre Sunnyside Yard.

The three-hour meeting was organized by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and Amtrak as they look to seek the public’s input as they create a masterplan for the massive site.

They presented the development of the yard as a generational opportunity, where the site could be used for open space, affordable housing, community facilities and commercial industry. Meanwhile, as the meeting began, members of the anti-gentrification group Queens Neighborhoods United were handing out flyers entitled, “Raising Questions About Sunnyside Yard.”

The masterplan, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, will result in a framework that details all aspects of the development for decades to come, including the various phases and timelines. About 80 percent of the site can be developed, according to the EDC’s 2017 feasibility study.

Despite fears of imminent development among the skeptics, the EDC tried to reduce those anxieties by saying that the plan is for future generations and nothing was happening soon.

“At this point we are focused on creating a collaborative vision, a master planning process through the end of the year,” said Cali Williams, director of Sunnyside Yard for the EDC. “Any future development is not imminent. There is no set plan. We are working on developing a plan together and before any development happens there would need to be approvals…so we are years away from construction.”

Statements like these didn’t placate many attendees’ fears. The fact, according to some, that the EDC is working on a master plan is indicative that something big is coming. One attendee from Sunnyside asked the EDC why the city wasn’t investing in existing neighborhoods that lacked infrastructure as opposed to creating a new one.

Cali Williams and Vishaan Chakrabarti (Photo: QueensPost)

Williams shot back.

“I think it’s important while planning for improvements in existing infrastructure to also be thinking long-term,” she said. “Sunnyside Yards provides an opportunity to think about what local stakeholders … need in the near-term as well as future generations.”

Vishaan Chakrabarti, the leader of the project’s master planning consulting team and the founder of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, gave a run-down of the possibilities that could be done with the site.

Chakrabarti said that the yard has enormous potential.

“It’s the largest available site in New York and in the center of the region. It is well connected to the airports, right for world class institutions…but on a local level could provide major public space, jobs and affordable housing.”

He discussed some of the challenges. For instance, to deck over the yards, a platform would have to be built over the tracks that would need to be 30 to 35 feet in height in order for the trains to clear—equating to at three stories. Connections would then have to be made from the platform to surrounding streets and done so in a way to integrate them with adjacent neighborhoods.

Any project would be done in phases, Chakrabarti said, and it is difficult to tell what areas of the Yard would be built up first.

He said from an urban planning and design standpoint it would make sense to start at the Long Island City core, but from a rail engineering standpoint the eastern section of the yard would be less complex.

The development may not involve a series of 30 to 40 story towers, as was presented in the 2017 feasibility study. Chakrabarti said that they are looking to explore buildings that would rise 6 to 15 stories in a more tabletop layout.

Chakrabarti said they have had a lot of positive feedback since May 2018 when the master plan process began, with a strong focus being on affordable housing, public space and added infrastructure.

“To be fair there are people who have said don’t do anything with the yard–but we have many people who have said: ‘We need affordable housing, we need fixes to our infrastructure, we need jobs, we need open space.”

The EDC plans to host four public workshops on the masterplan in April and May, with more to be held in over the summer. There will also be two more public meets scheduled this year.

Sunnyside Yardmaster Plan 2 by on Scribd

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16 Comments

Tyronne Fauntleroy

Ah yes freeloader housing built on a toxic rail yard ground infused with diesel fuel oils benzene and other chemicals . Not feasible or safe. Even some of our Socialists will agree

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CassieC

I’m one of them. I do agree. Besides I have a feeling it will just end up as a giant parking lot for those looking to avoid Manhattan’s congestion pricing.

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R.

It seems the same people who are against jobs coming to our area are also against developing unused space over a railyard even if it includes green space, affordable housing and community input. They just don’t want to spend money there when there isn’t any money for the projects.

I think it would make sense to make sure this does not become just another giveaway to developers. Maybe a landtrust where the property is owned for the public is worth considering. The city should reconsider what is “affordable but it should be mixed income housing and a public-private partnership. It is a real opportunity to create something great with foresight and vision that could make this area of Queens the envy of the world.

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NoToLandlordClass

If it was 100% affordable than fine. But it will be Hudson Yards in Queens so no. Sorry landlord!

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Guest

Maximum density. This is the best large site for development in the entire metro area. There are a ton of mass transportation connections and it’s very close to Midtown. To not maximize land usage would be tragic considering the current affordability shortage.

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Mario

Has Queens Neighborhoods United supported any development projects?

I would encourage this group to put a business plan together that offers an alternative to whatever they oppose. The alternative should include renderings, funding, budget…etc.

The Sunnyside Yards is a giant waist of space that looks ugly. Jesus, pick your battles.

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DB

It seems that their entire goal is just to yell at anyone who comes to the neighborhood with development ideas. If they want to actually make the area better then they should be putting forward plans to contribute to it, not just knock down other proposals. The fact that they highlight themselves as anti-gentrification and not pro-neighborhood makes it seem like they are just afraid of change.

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Jon

I completely understand why a group would be against leveling a block of 1920’s buildings to make way for a strip mall.

But being against covering up train tracks (which may be Amtrak’s first high speed train hub) as well as the intersection of other trains, for additional living, working, shopping space just seems dumb.

What is the alternative? A giant park? Sure, I think that’s great too. But this group needs to present their plan, their funding projections….etc.

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Jenasoriat

The first priority should be NOT selling out to developers – especially at massive expense to tax payers. With the increased density in LIC, park land is going to be important. We should be cautious paving over industrial spaces though. Once they are gone, they are gone. What is going to be the long term affect on managing the trains?

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Jon

I’m not quite understanding what you are saying.

The trains are already being managed. The space is already paved over with train tracks on top. It would have to be covered before a park goes on top as well. I’m not against a giant park but it would still need to be covered.

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Caucasian Rascal

Why do people waste their time attending these stupid meetings? Whatever will happen with Sunnyside Yards has already been decided by the developers and the Democrat Party. The public will have zero input with the eventual outcome. And why should they listen to what concerns you? They already know that no matter how much the Democrat incumbents betray their constituents, 90% of you will walk zombie-like into the voting booth on Election Day and blindly vote Row A right down the line. And for those of you that haven’t lived here long enough and naively think that Gianaris will be voted out because of Amazon, you have a lot to learn about how things work here.

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Mike Demenchuk

And it would be better to vote for a party that’s got Donald Trump for a standard-bearer just how, exactly, Caucasian Rascal?

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