BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Residents of Sunnyside expressed their anger and concern about a proposed affordable housing development planned for the community that many feel is too tall and will encourage more congestion and overcrowding.
A public hearing took place last Wednesday at Sunnyside Community Services in efforts to give residents an opportunity to voice their opinions about Phipps Houses’ 10-story, 209-unit development proposal for 50-25 Barnett Ave. Though Phipps owns the property, it must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, ULURP, because the site is currently zoned for manufacturing. That requires a vote by Community Board 2.
In attendance were several members of CB 2, over 50 community residents, representatives for Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside), Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and representatives for Phipps Houses, including President and CEO Adam Weinstein.
Michael Wadman, vice president of Real Estate Development at Phipps Houses, began the hearing with a presentation on the planned residence dubbed “The Barnett.” During the presentation, there were concerned looks from CB 2 members and several outbursts from community members.
According to “The Barnett” presentation, about 20 percent of the units would be reserved for households making less than 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), 30 percent of units would be set aside for households earning 100 percent AMI, and a maximum of 50 percent would be rented out to households earning up to 130 percent AMI.
The city has a number of programs that have defined affordability levels that they serve and “The Barnett” project uses the Mixed Middle Income Program. According to Wadman, this program seemed to be consistent with the neighborhood’s income demographics.
“In our community district, 42 percent of the people fall within that gap and when you consider that there is a 50 percent preference or presumably would be for those people, you are eliminating an enormous number of the people that this community board speaks on behalf of who will not even be eligible to apply,” said Pat O’Brien, CB2’s Chair.
Affordability was only a few of the CB 2 members’ concerns. Some other concerns raised were distance from the LIRR, parking issues, building height and school overcrowding.
After CB 2 members expressed their concerns, it was the community residents’ turn to have the floor. Opening it up was Nolan’s representative, whom read a statement from a press release, which was sent out earlier that day.
“After listening to the concerns expressed by many residents, I am concerned and opposed to the construction of a 10-story development currently being proposed at 50-22 Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens,” Nolan said in the statement. “As our communities continue to grow and expand, I am concerned that infrastructure needs for basic transportation, health facilities and classroom seats are not keeping up with the needs existing in our neighborhood. This proposed development will add another 220 units and will only increase the demand on an already stressed out infrastructure system. I stand ready to assist our community in any way to resolve these legitimate concerns.”
Although Van Bramer did not attend the hearing, a representative attended to share with the community that Van Bramer does in fact have some concerns about the development. His representative did not read a statement at the hearing; however, Van Bramer did release a statement in regards to the project.
“Like any other possible rezoning, the Phipps Houses project will go through a uniform process during which the Community Board, the Borough President, and I will all get to weigh in on the project,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “Community members have reached out to me with concerns about this building, many of which I share. During the ULURP process, there will be many more opportunities for people living in the 26th district to offer feedback on the Phipps Houses—and I will weigh this feedback heavily as I consider the proposal.”
The hearing began to heat up as Sunnyside residents began to express their concerns.
“We are going be tricked into the discussion of affordability,” said Dan Raymond, member of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project. “Adding density to a neighborhood and labeling it affordable isn’t going to do anything for the tens of thousands of residents who live here now and can’t afford rent. Adding units isn’t the solution.”
Of all the residents that commented on the proposed project, only two were in support of it.
“Sunnyside is a mixed-income neighborhood but I think that you all know that the market rate for home ownership units is really high and those prices do not reflect what the people in the neighborhood need,” said Jenna Rhynis, Sunnyside resident. “I know there are lots of concerns about this project but I think there is a way for the community to figure out how to make this project work better for the community instead of trying to shut it down.”
O’Brien became angered when a community resident called out CB 2, asking the chairman “is this a done deal or not, and if it is we have the right to know and who has the last say because from the looks of it none of us do.”
“If this were a done deal we wouldn’t be here tonight,” O’Brien said. “We’re not here tonight and we haven’t spent many months reviewing and discussing and pushing for things that make this a better project to spin wheels and to whine up with a preconceived result. So any of you who have that notion, I can’t persuade you of that notion. But I have spent countless hours up here doing exactly the opposite in efforts to bring about a result that benefits this community.
“It’s troublesome that there is any perception out there about a preconceived result because it basically takes the hundreds of hours of everybody you see up here and spits on them,” he said. “There is as fair and good a result coming out of this as can possibly be under very difficult circumstances.”
Following the hearing, Weinstein said that Phipps Houses is listening carefully to everyone’s comments and will make every effort to incorporate the community’s feedback as they move through ULURP while maintaining a feasible project.
The next step in the ULURP phase is for CB 2 to vote on the project, which will take place June 2 during their monthly meeting. That will be followed by a vote from the Borough Board, a recommendation from Borough President Melinda Katz, who has yet to weigh in one the issue, and finally a City Council vote.
Reach Reporter Ariel Hernandez at 718-357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org