Many Sunnyside residents against 10-story affordable housing plan

THE COURIER/Photo by Angela Matua

Nearly 200 Sunnyside residents attended a meeting held by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and representatives from Phipps Houses on Monday night regarding a plan for a possible 10-story apartment building containing as many as 220 affordable housing units.

Phipps Houses, the oldest and largest nonprofit affordable housing developer in New York City, is proposing to build the structure on a parking lot on 50-25 Barnett Ave. The development would be permanently affordable and give community preference to 50 percent of the units, meaning half of the units would be rented out to local residents.

Currently, the 200-space parking lot, which is owned by Phipps, services business owners and employees in the area, including 100 employees at Steve Madden’s regional office at 52-16 Barnett Ave.

Though Phipps Houses has not filed any permits, Phipps President and CEO Adam Weinstein, along with Van Bramer and Community Board 2 Chair Patrick O’Brien, agreed to brief residents on the plan and gather opinions.

The majority of people who attended the 2-hour meeting raised their hands to indicate they were against the plan, citing problems including a lack of parking, overcrowded schools and an already overwhelmed public transportation system.

Two Steve Madden employees, who declined to give their names, told The Courier that the company may be forced to relocate if this development is built. The company currently pays for 100 parking spaces in the lot and the development will make it difficult for the employees to commute to and from work, they said.

Christine McKay-Vega, a Sunnyside mother of a middle school student who attends Growing Up Green Middle School in Long Island City, said she has to walk her son 1.7 miles every morning across Northern Boulevard because the neighborhood severely lacks middle schools. She commented that since area schools are overburdened already, a housing development would only worsen that problem.

“I understand you’re not in the business of building schools and frankly I think affordable housing is great,” McKay-Vega said. “I’m telling you as a mom of a kid who’s in middle school that I have to walk him down Northern Boulevard through an industrial neighborhood. That’s dangerous, because I can’t get a bus, because we don’t qualify for a school bus. These are very real concerns for people who live here.”

Weinstein, who was urged by several attendees to sell his property to the Department of Education for a middle school, said he made an offer to the city agency but they denied it.

The parking lot is currently in a manufacturing zone. If Phipps sells the property, it can be turned into a number of establishments such as a hotel, manufacturing facility, catering service or other commercial property according to Herbert Mandel, a partner at MHG Architects.

Jack Freeman, who has lived in Sunnyside for 30 years and has experience financing and developing affordable housing, said residents should look at this development as an opportunity.

“I think that to constantly refer to this project as if it were an issue is a mistake,” he said. “I think that this is an opportunity and when people say what’re they giving back to Sunnyside, well what they’re going to do is give you 200 units of affordable housing that are definitely going to have an effect on the kind of people now that are living in apartments that in a year or so [they] will not be able to afford.”

Phipps Houses will present their plan at a CB 2 public meeting once a Uniform Land Use Procedure application is filed; the plan must also be reviewed by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, the City Planning Commission and lastly the City Council, which has the final decision. Van Bramer said he will continue to listen to residents’ comments and will make a decision after weighing concerns.

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