Court Square Civic Association protests air rights transfer of public land in Long Island City

Photo via Facebook/Court Square Civic Association

A flurry of signs waved in the air at the corner of Dutch Kills Street and Jackson Avenue on Sept. 22 as residents living near Court Square in Long Island City rallied in support of turning the land underneath the ramps of Queensboro Bridge into public space rather than developing it.

Air rights to the land are being sold by the Department of Housing Preservation Development (DHP) to a private developer who plans on constructing two tall towers on Jackson Avenue.

“Court Square has seen explosive growth over the past several years with no investment in our fragile infrastructure,” said Pedro Gomez, president of the Court Square Civic Association. “These 3+ acres of underutilized public land have not adapted to the bustling 24/7 neighborhood of today.”

Renderings of how the potential public spaces underneath Queensboro Bridge could look.
Renderings of how the potential public spaces underneath Queensboro Bridge could look.

To the Court Square Civic Association, the sale of air rights represents a transfer of public rights for private use with the purported goal of increasing affordable housing in Long Island City and meeting Mayor DeBlasio’s aggressive affordable housing goals. They feel that quality of life is being compromised.

When asked about the rally, the HPD that the city is indeed in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.

“We are aggressively pursuing every opportunity available to us to develop affordable housing throughout this city,” a spokesperson stated.

According to HPD, the agreement the city negotiated with the developer in the interest of ensuring affordable housing includes the sale of air rights in exchange for 30 percent of the residential floor area corresponding to approximately 150 permanently affordable units.

Air Rights Transfer Detail
Air Rights Transfer Detail

But the two lots that the HPD is transferring rights from are unbuildable, according to the civic association.  They are intersected by the Queensboro bridge on-ramps.

The DOT would only be able to build on these lots if they tore down the bridge approaches.

“These air rights would’ve never turned into a structure if it wasn’t for this deal,” the Court Square Civic Association wrote on their website.

The association also believes that the formula being used to calculate the amount of affordable housing being produced by this transfer is misleading.

The developer claims that 42 percent of the units will be affordable, but they’re only talking about 42 percent of the incremental square footage from the increased air rights — 42 percent of the 356,497 square feet —not the total square footage.

“We look forward to continuing the conversation with community stakeholders about other potential uses on DOT property, while we continue to weigh city concerns, including contractor staging areas for capital projects on the bridge, access for inspections and maintenance, and safety and security concerns,” said a DOT spokesperson in response to resident complaints.