By Bill Parry
The new chairman of Community Board 2 is urging his members, and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the Sunnyside Rail Yards, to stay calm and wait for more information about Mayor de Blasio’s “game-changer” of a plan for a massive development of an affordable housing complex on the site.
A community uproar ensued on social media after de Blasio’s State of the City address Feb. 3, when he called for decking over the 200-acre site to allow for the building of a new Stuyvesant Town with more than 11,000 units.
“There’s so much apprehension about how you absorb that many more people, perhaps as many as 30,000,” CB2 Chairman Patrick O’Brien said. “This area has already grown so much, population-wise, in the last decade and the infrastructure hasn’t caught up yet; the No. 7 subway line is maxed out in capacity. The overall plan is admirable because there is such a need, but there are so many questions. You really can’t formulate an opinion until all the details are known and the studies are just beginning.”
At the CB 2 monthly meeting Feb. 5 at Sunnyside Community Services, just two blocks south of the massive rail yards, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) spoke to the crowd of more than 200 concerned residents.
“I will not support any proposal for Sunnyside Yards that is not supported by our existing community,” Gianaris said. “Any talks of thousands of new housing units at Sunnyside Yards should be secondary to meeting our significant infrastructure needs. Western Queens is already in need of many more schools, parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line. As this process unfolds, I look forward to working with the community to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear when it comes to Sunnyside Yards.”
Noting that 100 percent of the Yards is inside the boundaries of CB 2, O’Brien added, “Where’s the financing for this project? How about all the infrastructure that would have to be put in like sewers, how about the schools and the medical facilities? We don’t even know if the subsoil in the yards could support something like this because the bedrock doesn’t begin until 60 to 70 feet down. Our position is one of serious interest and concern and we’re going to monitor this thing closely and not react to rumor. Vigilance is the watchword.”
O’Brien was elected chairman of CB 2 in December, when Joe Conley stepped down after 23 years. He was part of the planning for Queens West 25 years ago and he monitored the studies of the rail yards for the last two decades. “If you start building it down in the southwest corner in the LIC yards portion by Hunters Point Avenue, it wouldn’t affect Sunnyside at all,” Conley said. “It’s closer to the other subway routes in Court Square. It’s an area known as the MTA Yards because the MTA owns that portion while Amtrak owns the land by Sunnyside.”
Who owns what land in the yards has led both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Chairman of the Department of City Planning Carl Weisbrod to declare that building on the site is too problematic. The 200 acres of city-owned land surrounding Aqueduct Race Track has been talked about as an alternative.
“I’ve heard that and I don’t think that would work,” Conley said. “Transit is a problem with just the A train and a few bus routes and besides the racino there are no jobs down there, there’s no manufacturing.”
Conley is not sure what lies ahead for the Sunnyside Rail Yards, but he is sure that the need for more affordable housing is very real.
“When we opened up the registration for the new housing in Hunters Point South, we had 93,000 applications in 90 days for 900 apartments,” he said. “All three public meetings there were overflow crowds. People were so eager because the need is so great.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.