City Planning to rule on affordable housing project in Sunnyside

By Bill Parry

The City Planning Commission was scheduled to render its decision next week on the Phipps Houses’ plan to build The Barnett, a 10-story, 209-unit building with 100 percent mixed-income affordable housing in western Queens.

Phipps needs the city to rezone the area from manufacturing to residential in order to build the development on a 230-space parking lot it owns at 50-25 Barnett Ave. on the northeast edge of Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.

If the City Planning approves and the project enjoys the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, the controversial plan will move on to the City Council in the fall. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who has the power to sway the fate of the project, shot down the plan this spring, saying in his 6 ½ years on the City Council he had never gotten more feedback from his constituents and Sunnyside Gardens neighbors. Van Bramer objected to the height of the project and accused Phipps Houses of ignoring the concerns of the community. In early June, Community Board 2 also rejected the plan.

“I am opposed to this project because it is not right for our community,” Van Bramer said. “I will continue to be opposed to this project.”

Last month Borough President Melinda Katz said she would only support the Phipps Houses plan if it underwent changes.

“Sunnyside is a vibrant community, increasingly attractive to new residents and therefore requiring deeper affordable housing,” a Katz spokeswoman said. “The project simply cannot be considered ‘affordable’ if 75 percent of the residents currently living near the site cannot afford it. Borough President Katz recommends disapproval of this project unless the applicant deepens the band of affordability, addresses the needs for a community space and streetscape improvements, lowers the proposed building height and utilizes highly skilled labor.”

During a meeting with the editorial board at TimesLedger Newspapers, Phipps Houses President Adam Weinstein warned that if the project did not make economic sense, they would sell the property and walk away. The property is currently zoned for manufacuring and industrial uses.

“It could be obnoxious, generate traffic, it wouldn’t bring the amenities we bring and it wouldn’t put eyes on Barnett Avenue and bring life,” he said. “It could be pretty awful and that’s the reality.”

When Weinstein and his vice president, Michael Wadman, made their presentation to the City Planning Commission July 13, it was the same plan that was presented to Van Bramer, CB2 and Katz.

“We appreciate the thoughtful, constructive feedback from Borough President Katz and the City Planning Commission, which we are carefully considering,” a spokesman for Phipps Houses said Tuesday. “As we’ve said throughout the public review process, we’ll evaluate all feedback we’ve heard and decide which modifications we can reasonably accommodate as part of the City Council’s review of the project. We remain hopeful that we can work alongside Council member Van Bramer to address the genuine affordability crisis faced by so many in Sunnyside and its surrounding neighborhoods.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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