By Bill Parry
It took nearly three weeks, but Mayor Bill de Blasio finally had his “polite but firm conversation” with City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) Tuesday over his opposition to rezoning to allow the Phipps Houses to build 209-units of affordable housing just outside the Sunnyside Gardens historic district.
While neither side would discuss details of the talks, de Blasio spokeswoman Aja Worhy-Davis said, “The mayor and Council member Van Bramer had a respectful and substantive discussion regarding the project. We look forward to an outcome that benefits all.”
Sources say the talks were indeed “firm,” but Van Bramer continues to oppose the project, which is tentatively scheduled to go before the City Council for approval or rejection later this month. Van Bramer holds sway over the project as Council protocol typically follows the decision of the area’s representative.
Van Bramer also met recently with Phipps Houses President Adam Weinstein and remains opposed to the controversial plan.
Phipps Houses declined comment.
Meanwhile, a coalition of nearly a dozen community and arts organizations will hold a summit on Sunday, Sept. 18, to discuss the Phipps Houses plan and the overdevelopment of western Queens, among a host of other issues.
“The area’s real estate boom and increase in population had already exposed a marked inadequacy of infrastructure, with crowded transit, a decrepit sewer system, a lack of parks, not enough schools, and no hospital,” summit organizer Patricia Dorfman, executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, said. “Residents saw no attendant planning by the city to remedy the lack, so that granting permission to bring in even more people and activity would further strain the system and leave the taxpayers the burden to pay for the support system.”
The panel discussion will be held at the Queen of Angels Parish Hall at 44th Street and Skillman Avenue from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Kirsten Theodos, the founder of TakeBackNYC, will give a talk on displacement and gentrification.
“An average of 542 commercial tenants are evicted every month across the five boroughs,” Theodos said. The Sunnyside community has been on edge since the spring of 2014, when its only movie theater and a popular Irish pub was part of a lot sold to a developer for $7 million and is now on the market for over $19 million, according to Dorfman.
“We lost three valued businesses for four empty storefronts, including a bank, and one person’s business opportunity has left us with less of a neighborhood, fewer popular small businesses, and fewer jobs,” Dorfman said. “If the Small Business Jobs Survival Act had been in place, it would have given the renters time to move, to plan, to negotiate staying, and we would have had our businesses.”
Steve Null, the author of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, will also speak at the summit. The commercial rent protection legislation has languished in the City Council since 2014 while 27 of 51 members support it, including Van Bramer.
Jenny Dubnau, a visual artist who rents studio space in Long Island City and lives in Jackson Heights, is helping Dorfman organize the event because she is directly affected.
“The overdevelopment of the LIC manufacturing area has caused an enormous escalation in my rent, as well as that of all my neighbors,” she said. “The condos and hotels that are cropping up like mushrooms are an incursion into a thriving manufacturing zone filled with jobs-producing manufacturers and artists. Right now, all small businesses, from artists to factories to mom-and-pop stores can be hit by rent increases of any size, and have no right to even renew their lease. We need action.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr