By Bill Parry
A dilapidated vacant lot that many Sunnyside residents feared would be developed over the years will instead become a neighborhood park.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced Monday the had secured $3 million in City Council funds to acquire the property from developer DBH Associates and renovate it under the auspices of the city Parks Department.
“I’m thrilled to have allocated this funding to turn this abandoned playground back into a beautiful green space that our whole community can enjoy,” Van Bramer said. “Community members have been advocating for this space to be turned into a public park for decades. Today, we are one step closer to making that dream a reality.”
The lot at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street was initially opened as a private playground for the children of the tenants of the Phipps Garden Apartments, an affordable housing development across the street. The land had been abandoned since the mid-80s.
DBH purchased the lot in 2007 and in 2013 proposed the Aluminaire House project. It was a controversial proposal to move an all-aluminum “architecturally significant” house, built in the 1930s, to the lot as part of a complex that would include a two-story, eight-unit apartment.
The proposal met swift resistance from preservationists, residents and elected officials, including Van Bramer. More than 40 residents testified at a hearing of the Landmarks Preservation Commission that October. U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) even funded a bus to transport all who wanted to testify against the project, which was ultimately quashed.
“This is a very, very close-knit community. We know our neighbors and we have a strong sense of identity, what’s right for our community,” Van Bramer said. “I believe that everyone here feels lucky to live in Sunnyside and Woodside, and we’re going to make sure that generations that come after us also feel lucky to call themselves Sunnysiders and Woodsiders.”
Van Bramer was warmly received by the dozens of Sunnyside residents, many of them from the Phipps Garden Apartments. Just two weeks earlier, Phipps withdrew it rezoning application with the city that would have allowed the developer to build a 10-story, 209-unit affordable housing development a block away on Barnett Avenue.
Van Bramer blocked the plan because of the project’s height, its unaffordability, the developer’s refusal to make changes based on community feedback and concerns over maintenance at the Phipps Gardens Apartments. Van Bramer stuck to his position despite pressure from the de Blasio administration even after a “polite but firm” face-to-face conversation.
“Thank you for demonstrating your support for me in recent weeks that had me, and our efforts, facing some stiff head winds,” Van Bramer told the crowd. “I fight really hard even sometimes against really powerful forces and we win. We win for this community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr