Oct. 24, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Court Square will be getting a new elementary school and more open space following a deal struck as part of an upcoming development in the area.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said the city has agreed to fund a brand new UPK- 5th grade elementary school in Court Square and provide public space under the Queensboro Bridge ramps all in exchange for his blessing of a large two-tower development built in part with city air rights.
The announcement follows intense negotiations with the city and developers in their quest to move forward with the controversial “Long Island City Ramps” project, which has been undergoing a public review process since May.
The ramps project involves the transfer of publicly-owned air rights to the Lions Group, which owns property next to the ramps on Jackson Avenue, in a bid by the city to add more affordable housing units to its supply.
The project requires a public review process given the disposition of city-owned property, along with other permissions associated with the plan.
The recently-struck deal provides Court Square and Long Island City residents with two infrastructure items that they have long been fighting for–school seats and public space.
“This is a victory that will benefit the Court Square community for generations to come,” Van Bramer said.
The project, which came to the fore earlier this year, includes the construction of a 27-story building at 27-01 Jackson Ave. and a 49-story tower at 26-32 Jackson Ave.
Both buildings would be built with thousands of additional square feet of city-owned development rights from the adjacent lots under the Queensboro Bridge ramps, resulting in a 481-unit development with just over 150 affordable rentals.
The project’s controversy stems from the trade-off the city is making, as the proposed development is now about three times larger than what the the Lions Group, which partnered with Fetner Properties for the plan, would have been permitted to build under current zoning.
Additionally, less than half of the transferred air rights will be for affordable rentals.
Reactions to the proposed project when it was first announced were swift, with residents and Community Board 2 largely rejecting the deal, citing the minimal gain to the community with developers essentially receiving a giveaway.
The Court Square Civic Association has mobilized around the proposed deal, and urged the city to at least give up its space under the Queensboro Bridge ramps, currently used for DOT storage, for public space.
The new deal, which comes after passing the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises earlier today, includes $5.5 million in funding by the developer toward the design and build out of the public space under the ramps, totaling about 50,000 square feet.
The Long Island City Partnership, additionally, will be working with the city as a community partner to administer the design, development, and maintenance of the public space.
An advisory board will also be implemented, with the Court Square Civic Association and other stakeholders guaranteed a seat on the board guiding the open space project.
The open space as part of this deal does not represent all of the square footage available under the ramps, but Van Bramer said he has it “in writing” that the city will continue to work on securing the rest of the space under the ramps for public use.
Funding for the elementary school, while secured, will be announced in the upcoming School Construction Authority’s five-year capital plan. Typical funding for a school can range anywhere between $60 to $100 million.
Pedro Gomez, president of the Court Square Civic Association, said the deal represents a major first step in ensuring Court Square is a livable neighborhood for current and future residents.
“We’re excited to creatively adapt this underutilized public land as members of the park’s advisory board, and look forward to working with the School Construction Authority on a vision for our forthcoming UPK- 5 school,” he said.
The open space so far is all on the DOT lot on the south side of Jackson Avenue, with construction there expected to begin by 2020.
The school, additionally, is expected to be located and built out within five years, but it could be sooner. Several sights are being looked at for the school, additionally.
Other deals struck as part of negotiations include an agreement with developers to have all building service workers be unionized and from the Local 32BJ labor union.
“This development will create man new prevailing wage building service jobs with the opportunity for family health, training, and other benefits that will allow workers to raise their families in Queens,” said Kyle Bragg, secretary treasurer for 32BJ.
The project, submitted by the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, will go before the entire City Council at end of month, where is it all but guaranteed to pass.
The project came about after the city released a Request for Proposals for the air rights under the ramp to adjacent property owners in 2014.
Update 10/25 12:24 p.m. – Article updated with timeline information for the school and open space.