Oct. 23, 2015 By Adam Weinstein, president & CEO of Phipps Houses
On Monday night, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Phipps Houses will host a town hall to foster open dialogue about a new affordable housing development Phipps has proposed for 50-25 Barnett Avenue, a property we have owned since 1953.
We will be there to present, listen and answer questions about the project, which is one we think will be a huge asset to the neighborhood where we have been a quality, affordable landlord since 1930.
Here’s why. First, for those who might not know, Phipps Houses is the nation’s oldest and one of the largest not-for-profit organizations devoted to affordable housing. Affordable housing is our mission, and we’re pleased to stand with Council Member Van Bramer and Mayor de Blasio to help address the crisis of affordability in New York City and in Sunnyside – in this instance, particularly for middle-income families.
Our mission prompted Phipps’ purchase of land in Sunnyside more than 85 years ago to build Phipps Garden Apartments in order to provide an opportunity for middle income households to live and work in New York City.
It prompted us to purchase the lot across Barnett Avenue in 1953 so that today, finally, we might help middle class neighbors afford to live in Sunnyside.
Our current proposal focuses most heavily on family-sized apartments, and for households (of four people) earning between about $86,000 and $116,000. Unfortunately, families at those income levels have been priced out of Sunnyside in recent years.
We believe this building will greatly improve this desolate, uninviting stretch on Barnett Avenue.
In place of a semi-industrial, graffiti-scrawled hodgepodge will be a beautiful, primarily brick building, with more than 560 linear feet of double-wide 15-foot sidewalk lined with an allee of new shade trees.
The entire building is set back between 22 feet and nearly 40 feet from the curb, creating attractive planted “front yard” spaces and a broad, open pedestrian entry plaza with a concierge desk inside, adding to street-level security, much like many of the multi-family buildings nearby.
The sidewalks, plantings, and trees will directly address the frustration many of us share in getting the City to deliver street improvements on Barnett Avenue. Finally, at the building’s western end we propose a Universal Pre-K program open to the entire community, along with a children’s outdoor play area for the participants.
Much has been made about the building’s height.
We believe Barnett Avenue Apartments will fit well within the context and the character of its surroundings. The project relates to Phipps Garden Apartments directly across Barnett Avenue, presenting a street wall that is primarily seven and eight stories, nearly the exact height of the roofs and bulkheads of Phipps Garden Apartments. Because this would comprise the bulk of the street wall, the building will appear to be primarily seven and eight stories to people walking on Barnett Avenue; most of the building’s taller elements are set back farther and therefore entirely obscured from pedestrian view.
To further address any concerns about height, the entire building is set back considerably from the curb, ranging from 22 feet to nearly 40 feet. The building’s ten-story center section is set back farthest, nearly 40 feet from the street, creating the broad, open entry plaza akin to many Sunnyside and Queens apartment buildings.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Barnett Avenue Apartments would be more than 500 feet from 39th Avenue, with Phipps Garden Apartments in between. It would therefore be completely obscured from view from any point to the south of 39th Avenue, including any home in the Gardens.
We are also sensitive to neighborhood concerns about parking, and our project will provide more than adequate parking for the building’s occupants. We do not believe this to be a circumstance to seek relief under the proposed Zoning for Quality and Affordability text amendment.
Indeed, we believe that our management plan for parking will actually provide a large surplus of spaces on site that is nearly sufficient to meet the demand of users that park at the site’s commercial lot currently – in addition to the new occupants. In any event, as part of our ULURP certification, the City’s environmental quality law mandates that we conduct a rigorous and impartial study of impacts, from parking supply, to school seats, to traffic mitigation. We will respect the findings of that study.
We believe Barnett Avenue Apartments will unequivocally enhance the community, both of its own accord and certainly in comparison to the status quo on Barnett Avenue – especially when weighed against what could be built there under the existing manufacturing zoning.
We look forward to addressing each of these more technical points in greater detail on Monday, and also to the open exchange of ideas. We’re still in the listening phase, and hope you will be too. There will also be more than ample opportunity to discuss this project during the official ULURP process.
But let’s also keep our hearts open, and give consideration to the plight of the family trying to find a decent place to live, raise children, and thrive in our increasingly expensive city. Indeed, you may have been that family some years ago.
Looking forward to talking on Monday.
Adam Weinstein is President and CEO of Phipps Houses
These are the views of Mr. Weinstein and do not reflect those of this publication.