Feb. 27, 2015 By Christian Murray
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has been a strong advocate for decking over the Sunnyside Yard for months—despite the cool reception it has received from western Queens leaders.
Katz began advocating for developing the yards in September, when she announced that they have the “potential for extraordinary development.”
Katz plays an important role in what ultimately happens to the Yards since the area would need to be rezoned before construction could begin. The community board and the borough president would get to weigh in on a rezoning—before it is shuffled along to the City Planning Commission for review and then the city council.
At the council level, Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer would have the ultimate say.
In September, Katz released a 138-page strategic policy statement where she said that the “partial or complete decking of the Sunnyside Rail Yards has the potential for extraordinary development.” She added that it is the largest parcel of ‘vacant’ land remaining in the city.
At the October community board meeting, Queens residents became more aware of Katz’ position when former CB2 chairman Joe Conley said that he had been in discussions with her about building over the Yards. He then called on the board to write a letter to Katz calling for a feasibility study.
While many members of the board were caught off guard by Conley’s request, they were eventually swayed by him and voted in favor of sending Katz the letter.
Conley was then subject to heavy criticism for requesting the letter.
These letters are often used by public officials and city planners to move ahead with studies—allowing them to claim they have the community’s support. For example, Conley’s letter last year calling for affordable housing in Queens Plaza was cited as a reason why city planners are studying the area for a potential up zoning.
Katz is well versed in city real estate matters. She had worked at the law firm Greenberg Traurig from 2009-2012, where she was a land use adviser for real estate companies. She took that position after being a city council member from 2002-2009, where she chaired the land use committee.
On Feb. 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City address that he wanted to build 11,250 units above Sunnyside Yards, which received a frosty reception from western Queens leaders.
Katz, meanwhile, was publicly advocating for it. At the Queens Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast meeting Feb. 17, she said:
“We need to figure out how to utilize the property in a good way and I think housing is a great way,” reported the Queens Chronicle that covered the event. “Figuring out how to pay for it is the follow-up. … But it needs to be done carefully and it needs to be done in tandem with the community.”
De Blasio then announced last week that the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sought a consulting firm to undertake a one-year study to determine whether building over the Yards is feasible. The administration is seeking requests for proposal from firms that would essentially provide recommendations.
“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it can contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Katz’ spokeswoman, in an e-mail Tuesday wrote: “This feasibility study is a step in the right direction, and Borough President Katz looks forward to engaging community input.”
The e-mail also said: “Borough President Katz recognizes that potential development above the Sunnyside Rail Yards is attractive given the current growth and development throughout Long Island City and western Queens.”
However, western Queens leaders have been alarmed by the plan.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan was quick to announce that she had ‘grave concerns ’ about the plans. State Sen. Mike Gianaris was essentially against it—by saying only if it had community support, while Van Bramer continued to argue that the infrastructure would not be able to cope with it.
Nolan also said in a statement that such development would have “the potential to tremendously damage the middle class quality of life of our western Queens communities.”
Nolan then announced that she had hired local attorney Ira Greenberg on a part time basis to monitor de Blasio’s plan and to work with agencies, residents and other parties to make sure the community’s voice is heard.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris sent out a mailing to his constituents recently, which said that the building of new housing units should be secondary to meeting the community’s existing infrastructure needs.
Van Bramer, who has told the mayor that he supports the concept of affordable housing, has expressed doubts as to whether it should be in western Queens. He has consistently been saying that area is already in need of schools and parks—and continues to discuss the poor performing No. 7 train.
He said the Queensboro Plaza/Court Square area is likely to be rezoned that will bring affordable housing as well an influx of people.
“We have are a lot of challenges that we face today,” Van Bramer said at a recent civic association meeting, “let alone with a 100,000 more people.”
This is just plain dumb. Decking over the sunnyside yards will e hugely expensive. For example , the decking over the Hudson yards cost into the hundreds of millions, and this was to support manhattan real estate.
For a deck over sunnyside yards, which would only support queens development ( meaning less $ per squae foot rent), it doesn’t seem feasible ow.
Better to just start building 4 or 5 blocks outside queens plaza for now. The land will be cheaper, yet you are still within walking distance of the subway.
Katz can’t even clearly articulate why it’s a good idea, even though some arguments do exist. She is a mouthpiece.
Just give her a chance to brush up on the talking points she is being fed. It’s not her fault the press asked questions before rehearsal.
WHERE IS THAT PERSON?
Where is the local resident or small biz owner in favor of building this new city – with it planned stores and streets connected to existing streets – who will sign his or her name and address here? If you click “dislike,” self ID and tell why.
QUEENS’ LIVES MATTER
Why will real estate interests make so much at the cost of all our lives in the Trojan horse of so-called affordable housing? Don’t our Queens’ lives matter? When you dig the first scoop of soil, who will celebrate?
SOME THINK THE PROBLEM IS OVER
We now have close to 800 and over 400 online. Eventually, we will reach everyone not connected to the administration or big real estate. Many people ask if the project is already stopped. They are not aware of the influence big money is having in the halls of power. Local press is doing its job. We need to speak up.
SMALL BUSINESS IS TOAST
Virtually all businesses around NYC mega projects, i.e. original WTC, High Line, and current Brooklyn downtown were displaced. How will the Economic Development Corporation, the lead agency, stop the loss of hundreds of small businesses?
Skillman Avenue is a nice street with small shops and restaurants. How long will that last with QB and Greenpoint high-rises going on one side and a new city on the other? On Sunday, officials will march with the Mayor to show solidarity for right of all children to be cherished equally on a street about to be overrun by congestion and price hikes. Please cherish our children now. Our government has the right to operate by “consent of the governed.” Silence = consent.
FRIGHTENING CHANGES TO COME
Who wants the coming contiguous cross streets planned north/south adding to our congestion? How can we bear a worse commute? Do we have adequate schools, public playgrounds for children? Billions and billions needed for this are coming from where? Water, sewage, clean air, parking, schools, parks, toxic waste burying – how? With whose money?
The plan is that developers include lower cost rental units with much greater number of luxury units to make worth their while, with tax breaks. Queens would turn into a second rate suburb of Manhattan with congestion and high cost, with no upside. This area is not a troubled area needing revitalization. This is a piece of Queens that people who hunger after money are grabbing from us as Pete here says.
ONLY A GIANT PARK OR LEAVE ALONE
Why do the yards have to be developed? Who is complaining about them?
Only those who seek to make boatloads of money from them or reward special interests talk about this as progress, leadership, or as inevitable. Yards decking is explained as about needed affordable housing. Does anyone believe this?
ELECTED: PLEASE DO THE RIGHT THING
We can name small local sites next week the city can develop immediately, which won’t have a negative impact. A Turkish saying has it that “it is never too late to turn back from a wrong road.” How is listening to constituents a bad thing?
LAST CHANCE DANCE
And to those out there who hope others someone is taking care of this; they are not. If they grab the western end, the rest is gone. We don’t have a good record of speaking up in Queens. Often, we hope that someone somewhere is going to do the right thing. They cannot without us speaking out. Our trust, lack of time, or apathy has caused us to lose and lose and lose to Manhattan, to those with more money and influence. Anyone reading this is relatively wealthy. But if we do not take the time to even write an email, we have consented.
Community Board 2 email:
Borough President Katz :
718-286-3000 or [email protected]
Please sign if you haven’t: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/124/232/303/please-do-not-build-over-the-sunnyside-yards/
She should absolutely recuse herself from the entire process. The current Queens borough president has a huge conflict of interest putting forth a development that is against the interests of her constituents but would make her former clients fabulously wealthy.
She should keep out of it or resign her office.
Why would the Borough President “keep out of” a major land use project in her borough? That makes no sense.
It would be much better if the local anti-everything NIMBYs were to stop trying to block new housing from being built. Now that would be a nice development.
Not a NIMBY, But YES I am opposed to this project.
So – it’s more than just the NIMBYs that need to get out of the way, and knowing that, it’s a far larger % of the population.