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.
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