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Talk of Sunnyside Yards mega development chugging along  

Photo courtesy of Jim Henderson/ Wikipedia Commons

Proposals to redevelop the massive Sunnyside Yards are building up steam after decades of discussion as more key players in the rail yard’s future are weighing in with some specific ideas for what can be built there.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan was the latest to express her ideas about what to do with the massive 160-acre rail yard.

Nolan said upgrading the existing community must be considered first when developing the rail yard, referring to an ambitious plan by former Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and SHoP Architects to build a massive convention center and housing complex over the site.

Developing the Sunnyside Yards has historically been a touchy subject — one that began heating up recently after then Community Board 2 Chair Joseph Conley introduced the idea to conduct a publicly-funded feasibility study to figure out what could be done with the yards, which was first reported by The Courier in October.

Last month Doctoroff penned an editorial in the New York Times about his plan, which includes moving the 1.8-million-square-foot Jacob Javits Convention Center over the rail yards and expanding it to 3.1 million square feet, while also creating 14,000 new housing units — 50 percent of which would be set aside as affordable —  and adding an office and retail complex and public green spaces.

Rendering courtesy of SHoP Architects 
Rendering courtesy of SHoP Architects

But Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has not stood behind the plan, and instead voiced concern for current residents.

“What we need is more green space. We need a lot more schools, we need more [school] buildings, already based on the number of kids we have today, and not including any new kids,” Van Bramer said. “We need better transportation options — the 7 train is already over capacity. And yes we need affordable housing and we are very supportive of more affordable housing being built, but it can’t come at the expense of the quality of life that the people experience in the neighborhood today.”

Many of his constituents have opposed development of the yards. A petition against a development project at the site started by locals following the Doctoroff editorial has garnered about 250 signatures.

But industry experts seem to think not using the land would be a waste.

“I think that Sunnyside Yards represents an enormous opportunity for Queens and for the city and one that is certainly worth exploring more closely,” said former city Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, who is now a vice president at RXR Realty. “The big challenge will be to figure out how to get the right mix of uses. It’s too big an opportunity to ignore.”

Although he has not shown support for it, Van Bramer said if the project is to move further  a study must first be done on the proposed usage of the land.

“I think that if there is a next step the city might want to take a look at some feasibility issues and see what’s possible,” Van Bramer said. “I’m not sure anything needs to be done quite frankly.”

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