By Bill Parry
The city released Monday the results of its long-awaited Sunnyside Yard feasibility study, a 206-page report nearly a year and a half in the making, exploring the possibilities of decking over large portions to allow for construction of affordable housing, parks, schools, community facilities and retail space.
The study identifies a “Core Yard” which would provide up to 70 acres of developable land for the initial phases of development at a total project cost of $10 billion for decking, buildings and other infrastructure, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his “game-changer” of a plan in February 2015 to build a massive 11,250-unit, affordable housing complex, but the study shows 15,000 new housing units are possible with 3,300 to 4,500 permanently affordable.
“Sunnyside Yard represents one of our greatest opportunities to invest in the affordable housing, good jobs, open space and public transit western Queens needs,” Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said. “Working with independent engineers, Amtrak and multiple agencies, we have taken a hard look at what it will take to build over the Yard. It’s challenging, but it’s both physically and financially feasible. We look forward to bringing these results back to the community, elected officials, and other stakeholders as we explore this incredible opportunity to connect neighborhoods and build a stronger city.”
Construction would be in phases with the first beginning near Queens Boulevard and leveraging the area’s proximity to transit. Development would progress east towards Steinway Street and Northern Boulevard. Zones near Sunnyside Gardens would be developed last, according to the study. The highest densities and tallest structures would be located in the central portion of Sunnyside Yard, stepping down levels of density and height in the southeast to be more in scale with the low heights of homes in the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.
Community outreach will commence this spring as the NYCEDC pursues detailed planning analysis to identify discrete early phases of a potential project, local and regional transportation solutions, a refined development program, and a strategy for governance and implementation. The 180-acre Sunnyside Yard is one of the busiest in the nation used by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, which led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject the plan immediately after the mayor presented it.
The feasibility study examined areas not owned by the state-run MTA. Nearly the entire area identified as the “Core Yard” is currently owned and controlled by Amtrak, which provided significant input for the study.
“While additional analysis is needed, we are pleased to have taken this important step forward,” Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia said. “The Yard plays a crucial role in the daily operation of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and any future use must take that into account. We look forward to continued collaboration with the City of New York, MTA and other stakeholders to explore possibilities for this very unique and complex site.”
The feasibility study is only the first stage in a multi-step, multi-year planning process that will be needed to realize a project of this scale and complexity, according to the NYCEDC. The deputy mayor warned last month the Sunnyside Yard project would be long-term.
“Any major project which is of infrastructure and a neighborhood building effort transcends administrations, and it is going to be a decades-long effort,” Glen said. “But we are committed to continuing to evaluate it and see where we can make concrete progress.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr