A line of Queens residents and business owners nearly stretched out of the front doors of La Guardia Community College on Oct. 24 for the first of four Economic Development Corporation (EDC) public meetings about the master planning process for Sunnyside Yard.
“This is one of the most complex rail operations in the country,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, head architect for the future development on Sunnyside Yard. Chakrabarti recognized the need for open space and transportation infrastructure.
“This will cause this to take some time and be deliberate, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Chakrabarti about the public meetings.
The crowd was eventually corralled into a sectioned off area of the Building E atrium where they could visit six stations — each equipped with pens, colorful posted notes and large corrugated boards — and write suggestions and worries about a possible deck over the rail yard.
Attendees suggested that the space be used for affordable housing, open space or a park. But there were also concerns raised about transportation and development as both of those things mean new people arriving to an area already grappling with speedy population growth.
Sections included a “what’s happening in the neighborhood” area, planning process concerns, transportation and infrastructure concerns, community engagement concerns and a children’s section — where kids could write about how they wanted Sunnyside Yard to look when they grow up.
According to the EDC website, over the next 20 years the city’s population will increase by more than half a million people. Queens will be home to at least 80,000 of those people.
Sunnyside Yard is one of the busiest rail yards in the country and a key train storage yard and maintenance hub for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. It also serves New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road, which is developing storage tracks and maintenance facilities there as part of its East Side Access Project — and that means Sunnyside Yard will only get busier.
Director of Sunnyside Yard Cali William was adamant that the purpose of the public meetings will be to listen. But many of the Queens residents in attendance were suspicious.
“All of the stake holders are here but who is going to have a final say in the use?” said Jeff Sisson, a programer who lives in Sunnyside. Sisson felt that responsibility was being too diffused for comfort.
“It’s hard for me to believe they don’t know what they are going to put on top of the arches,” said Lelanie Oei, a therapist and Sunnyside resident.