By Bill Parry
The city is moving forward with plans to acquire a one-acre parcel of land in Sunnyside Gardens that was abandoned in the mid-’80s and repurpose the private site as public park space, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced Monday.
The lot at the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street was initially opened as a private playground for the children of tenants at the Phipps Gardens Apartments across the street, but Phipps closed the playground in the late 1980s and it has been abandoned since.
The formal public review, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, got underway at Community Board 2 Wednesday after the application was certified by the City Planning Commission. Once the rezoning is complete, the site will be acquired by the city with the $3 million in City Council funds allocated by Van Bramer.
“This rezoning will be a great victory for Sunnyside and Woodside,” Van Bramer said. “Public space is a vital component of healthy, dynamic communities and we have been fighting for years to acquire this site. Ensuring that this private land is returned to public park space is really important to me and to the Sunnyside community.”
Developer DBH Associates purchased the lot in 2007 and, in 2013, proposed the Aluminaire House project, a controversial plan 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 building. The proposal met swift resistance from neighborhood preservationists, residents and elected officials and was defeated.
“For years, I’ve worked with Councilman Van Bramer and community leaders to transform what remains of Phipps Playground into a vibrant public space for Sunnyside families,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “It would be tragic to lose this historic site to private developers, and with each step we take towards restoring Phipps, I’m reminded of the concerted community effort that has brought us this far. This renovation is decades in the making, and I’m thrilled to reach the last phase of the planning process so we can finally break ground on a brand new park right here in Sunnyside.”
Construction of Sunnyside Gardens, a 16-block area with more than 600 residential buildings began in 1924 to alleviate stifling overcrowding in the tenements of Lower Manhattan. The community, with its single-family houses facing a dozen common courtyards, was landmarked as a historic district in 2007.
Once the rezoning is complete, the $3 million allocation will go to the purchase of the property and its renovation will be under the auspices of the city Parks Department.
“The Phipps property holds an important place in Sunnyside history, but for too long the space has been overlooked and inaccessible,” Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said. “Parks is thrilled to move forward on purchasing and restoring this parcel, and give it back to the community for their enjoyment. With the support from our dedicated elected officials, and a little extra TLC, we can create a viable public space.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr