The long-awaited study to determine how feasible it would be for the city to develop the 180-acre Sunnyside Yards was released on Monday, and it found such a project would come with a staggering price tag.
According to the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build a deck over the rail yard, which is owned by the MTA and Amtrak, could cost between $16 and $19 billion. Sunnyside Yards also serves New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road, where storage tracks and maintenance facilities are being built as part of the East Side Access project.
The EDC proposed three different test cases that would focus on developing a mostly residential project, a “live/work/play” project or making it a “destination” project with mostly mixed-use development.
The residential option would create between 18,000 and 24,000 units of housing. About 5,400 to 7,200 of those units would be considered affordable housing. According to the test case, 13 to 19 schools would also be built on the property if that option was chosen.
The second test case would contain office space, retail, 10 to 14 schools but less housing. The third option would create no office space but would contain 16,000 to 22,000 units of housing, 600,000 to 800,000 square feet of neighborhood retail and 10 to 14 schools.
The study found that decking and construction is feasible in 80 to 85 percent of the yard and 15 to 20 percent, primarily over the Main Line, is infeasible. Areas of the yard that are “cost prohibitive” or infeasible could become parks, roads or open spaces.
A 70-acre area deemed the “Core Yard” would be ideal for initial development, according to the study. The development would require “thoughtful phasing and sequencing of investments” over a 15-year period and a “significant expansion” of mass transit would be required to support the influx of residents and employees coming to the area.
“Sunnyside Yards represents one of our greatest opportunities to invest in the affordable housing, good jobs, open space and public transit western Queens needs,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen. “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.”
Local elected officials are more skeptical about the feasibility study. State Senator Michael Gianaris said he would not support a plan without approval from the surrounding community.
“Any future development must ensure adequate infrastructure to handle our growing population, including additional schools, parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line,” he said in a statement. “I will intensify my efforts to see these needs addressed before thousands of new residents are added to our neighborhood and will not support any plan that does not have the community’s approval.”
Now that the study has been completed, the city will collect feedback from surrounding communities beginning this spring. In 2018, Amtrak will begin constructing a new High Speed Rail Facility in Sunnyside Yards to accommodate new trains. EDC and Amtrak have agreed to a plan that will allow the city to build above this new facility.
The city will also work to conduct an analysis to come up with “local and regional transportation solutions, a refined development program, and a strategy for governance and implementation.”