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Court Square to Get New School, More Open Space as Part of Air Rights Deal

Space under one of the city-owned lots under the Queensboro Bridge ramps in Court Square. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

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.

26-32 Jackson Ave., which will see a 49-story building as part of an upcoming development. (DCP)

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.

A rendering showing the proposed developments at 27-01 and 26-32 Jackson Aves after a deal for the city’s air rights. (SLCE via DCP)

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A rational person

Those who understand the most basic concept in economics — supply and demand — know that housing is cheaper for EVERYONE when more is built.


I do not understand all the negative comments, both relating to JVB and this project.

First, many rezonings that were approved took place prior to his term.

Second, it’s one thing to complain and quite another to deliver an actual outcome. Understand the socio-political system we live in….I really view some of these comments as “noise”. If one cares and desires change, there are many things one can do besides rant online in comment forums.

Your individual voice can be amplified by joining, organizing, and influencing the multiple stakeholders our local govt and society is made of. JVB has term limits coming up and is not up for relection, but from what I have seen has been able to deliver some actual concrete outcomes. It may not be what everyone wants (including me) but they are steps in the right direction, not just speeches at a “rally” but a real concrete outcome.


This is so sad. Building a school under a ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. Those kids will be breathing car fumes and construction particulates for years. How is the city going to ensure the air quality for those kids? How about light? Air? We’re giving kids an atmosphere that tells them we don’t think much about them or their eduction. Just appalling. I think Bp’s comment applies to so much in our neighborhood “Good question but when your given breadcrumbs you should be thankful.” This is stale bread.


I agree. This is barely a bone thrown our way. I’m going to start showing up to local meetings. It’s the only way to effect change.


This project smells like the “NEWTOWN CREEK”. Corrupt, not really affordable housing,shafting the public. How much money is JVB getting on this project. He has to be voted out of office. The community board and most other local residents and Associations don’t want this project. Why is this being “RUBBER STAMPED” by the City Council????? Just a Stupid Overkill project, again Building without planning never works!!!!!!!!!!!


“Is it unclear when or where the elementary school would come about, and a timeline for the public space’s build-out under the ramps is unclear.”
Wow, that really sounds promising. The public is once again getting a great deal here. Can’t wait for even more concrete washout all over the streets and trucks blocking Jackson down in that direction.

Lionel Q. Deveraux

Jimmy, take your “under the ramps” and shove it. What good is public space under an on ramp? You may want to picnic under an on ramp, but I would say you are in the minority. Maybe homeless people would like to make use of the space, but no one else. This another one of your sell outs to developers. Did you ever stop and think about the LIC infrastructure and if it could accommodate the tenants associated with a 49 story tower? Can the streets accommodate the traffic, mass transit accommodate the riders? No, because you really don’t care about your constituents. The people of LIC deserve better than you.

John Q. Public

The “public space” is under the off-ramp, where there is no sunlight. How exactly is this to be used by the “public”?


You’re right, we should demolish the anti-urban highway ramps.

Taller the better as far as housing developments are concerned.


Why do I have that bad feeling that our city counselman is pro developers. Did he ever tried to stop the overdevelopment of LIC ?


NYC lost a huge opportunity in Long Island City because our civil engineers are still living in the 19th century. Whilst demand for shared space had multiplied many fold over the last 100 years, we still look at a building as if it MUST remain as a box laid onto a city square with a front door facing the street, where all the buses stop to pick up passengers and cars double park. In putting new and taller buildings up, we’ve magnified the usage problem in that now we have about 10,000 times more people using it. Yet we keep using the street space as if we remain in the 1900’s. Looking at a modern city like Hong Kong, one realizes that instead of getting developers to concede space on the first three or four floors, where the city can exact things like indoor bus stops and delivery parking, overhead pedestrian malls and walkways, NYC still clings to the old style building footprint. Sure, we may ask for a homeless park or what will become other useless space. But, if I were the next mayor, I would insist that all civil engineers visit Hong Kong and see how things are done.


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