2020 Preview: Three big stories to watch in northwest Queens

queens courier 2020 preview (2)
Photos courtesy of Bill Parry/NYCEDC/Angélica Acevedo

There’s quite a lot to look forward to in 2020, but there are some stories in particular that we know will develop even further in the coming months. Transportation and developments are the main focus in northwestern Queens — take a look at some of the main stories ahead. 

Will plans for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) move ahead?

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Queens Connector

The city’s Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a zero-emission streetcar that would connect some of Queens and Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods, has been in the works since 2015. While BQX is projected to connect about 400,000 residents throughout the two outer boroughs, the de Blasio administration also sees it as a way to address the changing needs of commuters and the Manhattan-centric subway system.

The City Council discussed the Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) plans and setbacks for the project in a hearing last May, a few months after the EDC released their conceptual design report.

The project will cost $2.7 billion, funds that de Blasio initially said would be paid for through value capturing (which may involve increasing tax revenue and rising property tax values along the streetcar’s route) but, according to the EDC’s 2018 report, they’ll need more funds from the federal government. But Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer questioned whether the federal government would grant the funds needed for BQX under the Trump administration.

Larry Penner, a former Federal Transit Administration (FTA) official, told QNS he isn’t convinced the project will receive federal funding from the FTA’s New Starts program either. “The odds are slim to none that the project will get out of the barn,” Penner said.

The EDC’s 2018 report also outlined 11 potential stops from Astoria to Red Hook — with a single ride set at $2.75 — but some critics of the plan said that the stops are similar to those on the G train.

If City Council approves the project the way it is now, construction would begin by 2024 and completed by 2029. The city’s conducting an environmental impact review for the project, which will then go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) before it goes back to City Council for a vote.

Astoria residents want a ferry connection to Upper East Side

Photo by Bill Parry

The Hallets Point Alliance, which is a coalition made up of residents of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association and the Durst Organization, are urging the city to expand the NYC Ferry service to Astoria by providing a direct connection to Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Although a landing already exists at 90th Street and the EDC added a new Brooklyn Navy Yard ferry stop to the Astoria line that will connect residents to the city’s premier manufacturing hub, the Hallets Point coalition said that doesn’t help them.

Many of the residents of the Astoria Houses currently work in the Upper East Side’s medical sector, which is 1,515 feet across the East River. The nearest subway station to Hallets Point is more than a 20-minute walk, and a train trip to the Upper East Side can take up to an hour.

City Councilman Costa Constantinides advocated for the current ferry service since he took office in 2013, and told QNS he understands his constituents’ current proposal.

“The distance is just 1,515 feet away. If you want to get people out of cars and take public transportation if it’s something that will accomplish that goal it would be a good one but right now it’s not an option,” Constantinides said.

Old Astoria Neighborhood Association even created a petition in order to get the city to provide a direct connection from Hallets Point to the Upper East Side, which already has more than 1,100 signatures.

The EDC committed to another feasibility study, but that will take place only after the agency launches its proposed routes in 2021. But we will see if the community’s concerns help speed up the process.

The EDC’s plan to develop Sunnyside Yards gets bumpy

Photo credit: Angélica Acevedo

The EDC has another big development project in the works that’s getting lots of attention from the community — the Sunnyside Yards.

The city agency has proposed new land built atop one of the busiest rail yards in the country in order to create a whole new neighborhood, but they haven’t released a final master plan. An earlier feasibility study placed the Sunnyside Yards project between $16 and $19 billion, but the price went up to $22 billion.

The EDC is currently conducting outreach interviews and meetings with the community in order to get their feedback on the project. But in September, one of their in-person meetings became a demonstration against the EDC and their plans for Sunnyside Yards. Community activists don’t believe the EDC will keep true to their promise of offering affordable housing and public amenities. Some residents say the city should instead invest that money in existing issues in the neighborhood, such as NYCHA maintenance and affordable housing.

In November, several community watchdog groups, including Justice for All Coalition, Stop Sunnyside Yards and Woodside on the Move, held a rally outside of the rail yard in order to call for the city to stop all plans for the project. They also presented a petition that calls for a moratorium on all developments in Queens, the abolishment of the EDC and alternative ways to use the project’s funds. Senator Michael Gianaris, Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also sent letters to the EDC so that they address the concerns raised by the community.

The EDC said the official plan for Sunnyside Yards will be released in Winter 2020.