April 26, 2019 By Christian Murray
The $180 million promised Long Island City to help address the area’s stretched infrastructure was included in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 fiscal budget released yesterday.
The funds will be used toward the construction of a new school in Court Square, upgrades to the sewage system, and improvements to the transportation network and local parks.
The allocation is part of the Long Island City Investment Strategy, a long-term plan released by the City in October to help improve the stressed infrastructure.
The plan was announced largely in response to the residential development boom that City Planning didn’t foresee when it rezoned the 37-block Queens Plaza/Court Square district in 2001.
City Planning anticipated, according to its Final Environmental Impact Statement in 2001, that no more than 340 residential units would be built in the area by 2010 and expected as much as 5.5 million square feet of commercial development, according to a recent report released by The Municipal Art Society of New York titled A Tale of Two Rezonings.
In 2010, there were 800 residential units and by 2018 almost 10,000 units—with more coming, according to the report. Meanwhile, the amount of commercial space dropped by 2010, as buildings were being demolished for residential use.
City Planning’s miscalculation has meant a lack of schools and park space for the influx of residents and a range of other problems.
The $180 million will be allocated to tackle many of the area’s shortages.
The city is allocating $60 million toward a new school in Court Square. Additionally, $95 million has been set aside to implement a first phase of upgrades to the combined sewers in the area west of Sunnyside Yard as part of an upcoming drainage plan.
The budget also includes $10 million to fund street infrastructure in Hunters Point and the greater area to fix roads and improve street infrastructure.
The budget includes $15 million toward additional open space in the inland portions of the neighborhood, like under the Queensboro Bridge ramps on Dutch Kills Street, while enhancing existing parks, like Queensbridge Baby Park and Court Square Park.
The $180 million plan stems from the city coordinating with multiple agencies and engaging with the community since 2015, where the city heard concerns from distressed locals on infrastructure keeping pace with development.
But Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer believes much more needs to be done.
“While I am pleased to see the $180 million in Long Island City infrastructure investment officially added to the City’s budget, we need more than just this step in the right direction,” Van Bramer said. “And like this $180 million, we need more infrastructure investment that isn’t tied to more development. The needs exist today for the people who call LIC home now.”
Van Bramer said that the School Construction Authority needs to find a site for the school in Court Square as soon as possible. Recently he said that the city should use eminent domain to make it happen.
Thomas Devaney, senior director of Land Use Planning at The Municipal Art Society, said that it is very difficult to play catch-up when it comes to infrastructure and that people are living with the consequences of City Planning’s miscalculation.
The report notes that City Planning wanted Queens Plaza and Court Square to become a commercial hub that would be an alternative to midtown and downtown Manhattan when it undertook the 2001 rezoning. It up-zoned blocks and allowed mixed-used buildings in what was an area largely zoned for light manufacturing and commercial use.
Instead the plan misfired. In 2001, only 2 percent of the floor area within the 37 block district consisted of residential development. By 2018, the number reached 60 percent.
De Blasio said in 2015 that the city was looking to rezone the area again. The city then launched the Long Island City Core Study and held public meetings in 2017. There has been little movement since.
Van Bramer said that the area needs more resources. “I’ll keep working for more funding because LIC deserves it.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said she was glad that De Blasio made good on his commitment to Long Island City.
“I am delighted that Mayor de Blasio is keeping his commitment to the Long Island City community. I have made clear to him that I believe it is critically important for the city to fix the aging sewage system in Long Island City, which backs up every time it rains, to build new parks and schools to meet the growing population. In coming months, I’ll be working with the de Blasio administration to make sure the funding is invested as promised.”