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Phipps Faces Continued Objections as Zoning Process Moves Forward

Public hearing at Sunnyside Community Services

Public hearing at Sunnyside Community Services

May 24, By Christian Murray

More than 150 residents attended a public hearing last Wednesday to express their views on the controversial 10-story, 208-unit affordable housing development that is proposed to rise at 50-25 Barnett Ave.

The attendees, many of whom were long-time Phipps Gardens Apartments residents, largely panned the project—called The Barnett—at the meeting held at the Sunnyside Community Services Center.

They claimed the 10-story building was out of scale with the neighborhood; the development would lead to parking problems; it would put pressure on an already overstretched infrastructure; and that its so-called affordable apartments skewed too much toward higher income residents.

However, several supporters of the project also attended, arguing that there is a shortage of housing in the neighborhood and that this project will provide an additional supply of units at a reasonable rent level. They also charged that the scarcity of affordable housing is just as problematic as the stretched infrastructure.

Phipps Houses, a non-profit builder, needs the City to approve its application for a zoning change in order for the housing development to proceed. Wednesday’s public hearing was part of the application process Phipps must follow in order for the land to be rezoned from manufacturing to residential.

“This is a terrible idea and the building is way too big,” said a representative for the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, who had generated 1,700 signatures against the proposal. “It’s a quality of life issue,” he added, claiming the schools are already overcrowded, subway service is already stretched and businesses nearby, such as Steve Madden, might suffer.

Gerald Perrin, 82, a life-long resident of Phipps Gardens Apartments, noted that the site that is going to be developed is presently used as a 225-space parking lot. He said Phipps Gardens Apartments has 472 units whose residents rely on that lot, as there is no off street parking associated with the development.

Existing lot

Existing lot

Perrin said the loss in parking would be devastating.

“The loss in parking would not just be a nightmare for us but it would ripple throughout the surrounding community,” he said.

“The Barnett” will include a 200-space parking lot. However, Phipps claims that only about half of them will be used by tenants, leaving 100 parking spaces left over for community use.

Adam Weinstein, the president of Phipps who was at the two-hour public hearing, had said at previous meetings that the company’s primary focus is on affordable housing—as opposed to managing the parking lot.

He said that Phipps was doing its best to alleviate the situation by building significantly more parking than what is required by zoning.

The impact of the development on traffic, parking, school seats, the 7 train and other infrastructure issues will all be studied during the environment review, which is part of the greater zoning application.

Dan Raymond, who recently formed the Queens Anti-Gentrification Group, claimed the development will lead to the displacement of the working class and immigrants.

Raymond said that Phipps is not really committed to affordable housing, claiming that “they are bringing rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments across the street [Phipps Gardens Apartments] up to market level.

“They don’t represent our interests, say no to Phipps Houses,” he said.

Phipps disputed this claim.

“Any suggestion that Phipps is actively deregulating Phipps Gardens Apartments is not based in reality. Due to a mix of turnover and renovations, only 13 apartments out of 472 apartments have been deregulated,” according to a spokesperson for the project.

MHG Architects

MHG Architects

Proponents of the development focused on displacement of local residents already taking place due to the lack of housing options.

“I live on 39th Avenue and I support the project because we have two young kids and I have many friends with young kids who have had to leave because they couldn’t afford to live in the neighborhood,” said Jenna Breing, a resident said.

“I think we need to think this through and make it work better for the community than just shut it down,” Breing said. “Shutting it down just means that more of our friends and neighborhoods will have to leave.”

Jack Freeman, a Sunnyside Gardens resident, said that the neighborhood has a housing shortage that is pushing people out and leading to higher rents, which the Phipps project can help solve.

“No one is being displaced by this and the rents are in the range of what is in the neighborhood,” Freeman said.

But the development was subject to criticism about who was eligible for the housing.

Several CB 2 members argued that the qualifying income levels for the “affordable” units skewed too high and that there were not enough units for lower-income residents.

Phipps, however, said that the affordable income limits selected were in accordance with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Mixed Middle Income program.

Weinstein said there are programs where all of the units could be offered at 60 percent of Area Median Income. However, he said the program selected was more appropriate for Sunnyside.

Adam Weinstein, Michael Wadman (L-R)

Adam Weinstein, Michael Wadman (L-R)

Michael Wadman, vice president of Phipps Houses, told participants that there would be a 50 percent preference for members who live in the Community Board 2 district (which includes Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City) and outlined the overall income limits.

Twenty percent (42 units) of the apartments will be for residents who earn at or below 50 percent of Area Media Income, he said. That equates to about $32,000 for a single person or about $45,000 for a family of four, according to 2015 Housing and Urban Development figures.

Thirty percent (62 units) will be for those who earn at or below 100 percent of AMI. The maximum amount an individual applicant can earn is about $64,000, while for a family of four it is $91,000.

Fifty percent (104 units) are for residents who earn up to 130 percent of AMI. The maximum amount for an individual is about $83,000, while it is about $118,000 for a family of four.

Lisa Deller, the head of CB 2’s land use committee, said that a significant number of people who reside in this district fall between the 50 percent and 100 percent income thresholds and would not be eligible to apply.

Pat O’Brien, chair of CB 2, said, “You are eliminating an enormous amount of the people in this neighborhood who we speak on behalf of who would not be eligible to apply.”

CB 2 will take a vote on the Phipps plan on June 2 during its monthly meeting that is scheduled be held at Sunnyside Community Services at 7 p.m. Its decision is only advisory.

The project then moves to the Queens Borough President for an advisory vote, and then the City Planning Commission and City Council, both of which have the capacity to nix the project.

The City Council’s decision will essentially be determined by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, since it is Council protocol for members to follow the recommendation of the local representative.

Van Bramer has stated previously that he has “concerns” about the project.

 

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