Community Board unanimously approves turning Sunnyside site into public parkland again

Photo courtesy of Gerry Perrin/Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance

Sunnyside residents rejoiced after Community Board 2 voted unanimously on Thursday night to recommend approval of the Parks Department’s plan to acquire private property in Woodside and transform it into a public park.

The site at 50-02 39th Ave. was previously used as an outdoor nursery and playground, one of the few Depression-era play areas left in the city. The property was sold in 2007 after it became a part of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.

Last month, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announced that he had secured $3 million to purchase the land and turn it into public parkland. But first, the site must go through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to rezone it for public use.

On April 5, Deputy Director of Parkland and Real Estate, Jose Lopez, came before the board to officially announce the city’s intentions to acquire the 10,000-square-foot site.

“This is very exciting opportunity for us and we’re glad that we have a willing seller,” Lopez said. “Personally, I cannot wait to get through the ULURP process.”

The plan still requires approval from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council and the City Planning Commission before the Parks Department can begin the design phase.

Since the site sits within the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, the city will take “into account the existing aesthetics,” Lopez said. 

The site, which is fenced off, includes an outdoor pavilion and several Board 2 members requested that the pavilion remain. Lopez said the site is too small for a comfort station but the Parks Department will look to include play equipment for children and “passive space” like benches.

Herbert Reynolds, a member of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, said he and other Sunnyside residents were glad to see this acquisition finally take place.

“Since 2009, we’ve worked with over 300 Woodsiders and Sunnysiders and neighbors from afar to reopen this historic parkland as a garden park for all public enjoyment,” he said. 

The Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance started a campaign in 2009 to raise funds to purchase the site and turn it into a private park.

“We were trying to raise funds but the idea was to restore this private land to public use and thankfully this board voted unanimously to support our endeavor,” he said. “You strengthened our resolve.”

According to the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, the land for the site was purchased by the City Housing Corporation in 1924 when architect Clarence Stein began to design Sunnyside Gardens. Several years later, the city sold the property to developers who created the Phipps Garden Apartments. Stein was also the architect for that project.

A number of Sunnyside residents involved in that process came out to the meeting to thank the board and ask them to vote yes on the proposal.

Reynolds said residents “established a broad and deep consensus for a passive garden park with walks and benches, native plants to attract birds and butterflies, that honors the historic buildings that survive on the lot.”

The community fought off a proposal in 2013 which would have relocated an all-aluminum, historic home built in 1931 for a New York City exhibition at the site. In addition, a total of eight apartment buildings would be constructed around the house.

“We’ll look forward going ahead to working with the Parks Department to achieve the park that we’ve been working for all this time,” Reynolds said. 


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