BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Community Board 2 held a Land Use meeting on June 2, where they voted on a motion to oppose Phipps Houses’ 10-story, 209-unit affordable housing development on 50-25 Barnett Ave. in Sunnyside.
During the meeting, CB 2 requested an increase in the number of affordable units for residents whose income falls between 50 and 100 percent of the area median income, a reduction of the size and scale of the building, improvement to transportation infrastructure and relocation of parking, among other recommendations.
Following Thursday night’s Land Use Committee meeting, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) released a statement on the proposed development, expressing serious concerns.
Van Bramer co-hosted a town hall meeting with CB 2 in November, allowing residents to voice their concerns about the project.
“Phipps already manages the Phipps Gardens Apartments across the street from the proposed site of the Barnett, and have not always done right by their tenants,” Van Bramer said. “While I was aware of some issues with their management, I was dismayed by how many complaints existing tenants registered against Phipps, both at this town hall and subsequent town halls. Before we allow Phipps to build more rental units in the neighborhood, they need to get right with the people who pay them rent today.”
Although Van Bramer has continuously expressed his concerns, he wanted to “give Phipps the opportunity to build support and amend their project after hearing feedback from the community.”
The hearing took place on May 18, with over 50 community residents in attendance, along with several representatives for Phipps Houses and members of CB 2. During the hearing, some of the concerns that were raised were affordability, parking issues, building height and school seating.
“I wanted the Community Board to weigh in before I declared a position,” Van Bramer said. “However, Phipps has not, in any meaningful way, attempted to negotiate or amend the plan to address community concerns. Phipps has not built local or community support for the project. They haven’t seriously addressed concerns about height, income levels, community facilities, or amenities.”
Van Bramer said that he is fully in support of affordable housing, however, that doesn’t mean that every project is the right one or in the right location.
“I had intended to allow the land use process to unfold, and to allow the community board the opportunity to weigh in before I voice my opinion,” he said.
“At the last land use committee meeting, however, CB 2 Chair Pat O’Brien and members of the committee intimated that it was important for them to know where I stood as part of their decision-making process.
When I heard that, I realized that it was time for me to make my position clear. Given all of these concerns, I cannot support this proposed project,” said Van Bramer.
According to President and CEO Adam Weinstein, Phipps Houses believes in the public review process and will view it as an open forum for the community to provide feedback, which is why they participated in last fall’s town hall meeting and is why they are in the listening phase as CB 2 weighs their current proposal.
“We firmly believe that the land-use review process works best in its entirety as it’s specifically designed to do,” Weinstein said. “Toward the end of that process, we’ll take stock of what we’ve heard and assess what changes we can realistically make. While we’re disappointed to see the Councilman’s most recent comments, we remain hopeful that we can work together to take advantage of this opportunity: to develop a 100 percent affordable building in the heart of Sunnyside geared toward middle-income residents, and to address the genuine affordability crisis faced by so many in the community.
A spokesperson for Borough President Melinda Katz said that the matter will be up for discussion at the Borough President’s Land Use hearing on June 23. Until then, they reserve comment.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org