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EDC to Hold ‘Digital Town Hall Meeting’ On Sunnyside Yard Masterplan Wednesday, Plan Faces Heavy Opposition

Sunnyside Yard (Photo: EDC)

Dec. 3, 2019 By Michael Dorgan and Christian Murray

Officials will be releasing a draft of the Sunnyside Yard master plan Wednesday—although they won’t be unveiling it at a traditional town hall meeting.

The preliminary draft will be showcased online via a digital town hall that will take place on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. Participants, who are required to register, will learn about the plan via their computer screens and speakers—as opposed to going to a traditional meeting hall.

The Economic Development Corp, which is organizing the online meeting and is quarterbacking the massive development plan, said that the webinar would provide the public with a greater opportunity to learn about the plans and provide feedback.

The overarching plan for the 180-acre site will involve decking over the yards– and potentially constructing tens of thousands of apartments, office space, green space and a transportation network.

The masterplan is expected to be completed before the end of winter and will provide a framework that underpins all aspects of the development for decades to come, including the various phases and timeline.

The webinar will be the fourth public meeting dealing with massive site this year and will be the first to be held online. The last meeting on Sept. 16 at Aviation High School in Long Island City was temporarily disrupted when dozens of protesters turned up to blast the plans.

Proesters at the Sept. 16 meeting (Photo: Queens Post)

But the EDC did not cite the protesters as to why the meeting is being held online.

“We are hosting a Digital Town Hall webinar on Dec. 4 to reach community stakeholders who were not able to participate in our previous events,” according to the EDC in a statement.

“We wanted to use another platform to engage with even more people and we figured this webinar would offer another helpful way for community members to ask more questions about the master planning process and provide the team with even more feedback.”

To date, the EDC has held three public meetings and approximately 100 community stakeholder in-person interviews. A steering committee—comprised of a 35-member panel that includes a medley of community leaders, local elected officials, and planning experts—has met every quarter since June 2018.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, the leader of the project’s master planning consulting team, told attendees at the Sept. 16 meeting that the plan is likely to include a sprawling 60-acre parks system; residential and business districts; roads and bikes lanes; and a new Sunnyside train station, which would serve as a transport hub connecting western Queens with the wider region

The majority of buildings in Sunnyside Yard, he said, would be mid-rise, between eight and 18 stories. Some of the plans displayed at the meeting, however, did note that buildings of 30-50 stories are being planned.

Concept Put Forward by the EDC at Sept. 16 meeting

But a vocal groundswell of people have come out against the development of the yards.

Just last week, a boisterous crowd of about 80 protestors, representing over 40 organizations, assembled in front of the Sunnyside Yard site on Skillman Avenue between 32 and 33rd Street to protest the EDC’s plan to develop it.

They held signs that read: “Queens is not for sale”, “Stop Sunnyside Yards” and “We Can’t Afford Your Affordable Housing.”

They said the funds needed to deck the yards would be better spent elsewhere. They said the money should be spent on restoring public housing, repairing the city’s infrastructure and saving small businesses.

Dannelly Rodriguez from Justice for All Coalition spoke about rising rents and gentrification. He also pointed to Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing complex in the country. “It is literally crumbling…, there are people who are literally living without heat and water, living in morbid conditions with vermin in their apartments.”

The EDC has also been criticized by some elected officials who also say the plans could lead to residents being priced out of western Queens in years to come.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez penned a letter to Adam Meagher, Senior Vice President New York City Economic Development Corporation, last month voicing these concerns. It read in part:

“The proposed high-rise and mid-rise residential buildings would further exacerbate a housing crisis that displaces communities of color and parcels off public land to private real estate developers. No one wishes to see the specter of luxury development that is Hudson Yards duplicated in Sunnyside.”

But the EDC sees the large swath of land as providing solutions to many of the city’s problems—including a shortage of housing and green space in western Queens.

“Sunnyside Yard presents an opportunity to build a stronger New York and meet the needs for more open space, transit, housing, jobs and green infrastructure in western Queens,” said a spokesperson for the EDC. “We recognize that in any long-term planning process there will be questions and concerns. We look forward to continuing to engage the community to discuss the goals and impact with them.”

For meeting details on how to be part of the Dec. 4 webinar click here

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Larry Penner

How would the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposed multi billion dollar Sunnyside Yards development project work, without significant transportation improvements? Both Amtrak and NJ Transit use the existing Sunnyside Yards for mid day and overnight storage, along with positioning of equipment for rush hour service. The MTA, LIRR and Metro North have their own future potential plans to use portions of Sunnyside Yards for construction of a station. The MTA, LIRR, Amtrak New Jersey Transit and Metro North Rail Road all will play a role in the success of any development plans for Sunnyside Yards.

Few remember that in 1998, as part of the proposed MTA LIRR Eastside Access project, construction of a passenger station was considered for Sunnyside Yard. It would have provided access to the growing Long Island City business and residential district. Fast forward twenty one years. The MTA has still not advertised and awarded a contract for the new Sunnyside Yard LIRR Station (that was to be built at Queens Blvd. & Skillman Avenue). There is no significant funding included for this project within the current $32 billion MTA 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Plan. The same appears to be true under the $51 billion MTA 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. Even if funding is in place at some future date, the MTA would need to complete environmental review, preliminary and final design followed by advertising and awarding a construction contract. Next, is the notice to proceed, contractor mobilization, actual construction, beneficial use, completion of inspection, acceptance and contract punch list items, receipt of asset maintenance plans, followed by release of retainage and final payment to the contractor. Just to reach beneficial use from start to finish would take five years or more. Ten years ago, the estimated project cost was $400 million. Who knows what the engineers estimated cost would be over the next few years? Don’t be surprised if it grows by several hundred million more. This station will have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and include a number of elevators. The final project cost upon completion could increase based upon responses to bids, along with change orders during construction due to last minute changes in scope or unforeseen site conditions.

Any future development plans utilizing the air-rights over Sunnyside Yards should include the proposed MTA LIRR Eastside Access project construction of a passenger station at Sunnyside Yard. It will provide access to both Sunnyside and adjacent growing Long Island City business and residential community as well as neighboring Astoria and Woodside. There has been incredible residential and commercial growth in neighborhoods adjacent to Sunnyside Yard. Image the benefits to both residents and commuters. Consider the possible travel options including reverse commuting if a Metro North Rail Road connection from the New Haven line via the Bronx and Hell Gate Bridge on to Penn Station reached beneficial use. This assumes there is a way to find capacity in Penn Station during peak am and pm rush hours for new Metro North service. It should be easier to find space for off peak, evenings and weekends. Both could provide service to a Sunnyside Yard station assuming it could be completed by 2025.


Larry Penner

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, LIRR, Metro North, MTA Bus, NYC DOT along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).


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