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Assembly Member Barnwell Comes Out Against Phipps’ Barnett Avenue Plan, Gianaris Criticizes Management

State Sen. Mike Gianaris visits Phipps Garden Apartments on Wednesday (Photo: Courtesy of Sen. Mike Gianaris)

Nov. 30, 2020 By Christian Murray

A non-profit real estate organization that seeks to build a 7-story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside has come under fire from two elected officials.

State Assembly Member Brian Barnwell and State Sen. Mike Gianaris have accused developer Phipps Houses of shoddy property management after the pair visited the organization’s Phipps Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue last week.

The non-profit developer is looking to rezone and build an affordable housing project at 50-25 Barnett Ave., across the street from the complex Barnwell and Gianaris visited Wednesday. The new development would include 167 units–all of which would be income restricted.

Barnwell, whose assembly district covers the Barnett Avenue site and the Phipps Garden Apartment complex., said he does not support the new development.

“I do NOT support the #Phipps Houses’ rezoning due to various reasons,” Barnwell tweeted. “We should not reward bad developers who continuously fail to maintain the current properties they already have with new property.”

Barnwell, in an interview, also said that the units should be offered to people who earn far less. He said that the Area Median Income–which is a regional figure– is much higher than the median income for local residents.

Phipps has been subject to fierce criticism in recent weeks over the way it manages its 39th Avenue complex. Many of its tenants at the 472-unit complex argue that the 80-year-old property has fallen into disrepair and Phipps should not be rewarded by getting to develop a new building.

At a public hearing on Nov. 18, Phipps was subject to a barrage of criticism over its management, with tenants citing rodent problems to drainage issues.

Nevertheless, many support the project. Its advocates say that the development would bring much-needed affordable housing to the area and the site is being underutilized as a parking lot.

*Excludes superintendent’s unit. The revised income levels proposed for the 50-25 Barnett Ave. property as presented by Phipps at the Land Use Committee last week (Phipps)

The Land Use Committee for Community Board 2 voted in favor of the zoning change (8 to 1) last week. Phipps presented the committee with an improvement plan for the 39th Avenue complex prior to the vote.

The full board is scheduled to vote on Thursday.

Gianaris did not expressly say whether he opposed the project, but did pen a letter to Adam Weinstein, the president of Phipps Houses, criticizing the organization’s management.

Gianaris, in the letter, told Weinstein that he visited Phipps Garden Apartments last week and that the property was in poor condition.

“I witnessed vermin, bedbug, and roach infestations, water damage leading to mold, and residents forced to clean and maintain common spaces themselves. Their complaints are well founded, and the result is unacceptable,” Gianaris wrote.

He said that the tenants at Phipps Garden Apartments deserve much better.

“The fact that you are currently asking for approval to expand your development onto a neighboring parcel is troubling if we can expect this record to be repeated at the new location,” Gianaris wrote. “I ask you to do your job and ensure all your current and future tenants receive the quality housing they deserve.”

Barnwell and Gianaris voiced their concerns over the weekend around the same time that a petition against the development was launched by Emily Sharpe, an outspoken critic of the plan who is also a candidate for the 26th District council seat next year.

The petition has generated about 130 signatures and it calls on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to reject the plan should it go before the city council.

A new group, dubbed the Woodside Sunnyside Council, is also holding a rally on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to denounce the project at the Sunnyside Arch on 46th Street, according to organizer and long-time resident Patricia Dorfman.

The fate of the plan will ultimately be determined by Van Bramer, since the rezoning application must be approved by the city council.

While Community Board 2 and the Queens Borough President get to weigh in on the project, their feedback is merely advisory.

Van Bramer, who partook in the public hearing Nov. 18, said that he wants to listen to the community before making a decision.

He blocked Phipps in 2016 from developing the Barnett Avenue site, when it sought to develop a 10 story, 208 unit building.

Phipps did not respond for comment by press time.

Phipps Houses plans to develop 50-25 Barnett Avenue, currently a parking lot (Photo: Queens Post)

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10 Comments

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LIC DIRECT

Okay so move all the families from the old 80yr phipps gardens to the new building on Barnett and raze the old phipps and build new garden apts.

Reply
nora

Agree that Phipps should do a better job maintaining Phipps Gardens, but opposing the new development on such grounds just sounds like thinly-veiled NIMBYism.

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Gardens Watcher

Please take a closer look at that small street and imagine how a 7-story building of that scale will impact the neighborhood. The backyard of the proposed building is up against the rail yards, and it was reduced from 10 stories to 7, but is still too large for that space and out-of-scale for the neighborhood.

It is simply not fair to charge opponents with NIMBYism without taking into consideration the impact on the surrounding neighborhood, or the valid concerns of the residents of the existing Phipps building across the street. We’re not against affordable housing, but that doesn’t mean this is the right spot for it.

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Ergo

The right spot for it is not in my backyard. Build it on the other side of the yards, or on the other side of Woodside Avenue, or anywhere I don’t park. SMH with you NIMBYs already. Enough of this farce!

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Concerned Citizen

I love that NIBY is the go to word for people simply wanting to keep the neighborhood pristine, crime free, and clean. But seriously, go spend between 10pm and 4am at Marcy Houses or Queensbridge to see what sunnyside will become in 5 years. It is a slap to the face to countless families who worked their entire lives to buy a home in whats supposed to be a safe neighborhood only to have “progressives” intent on systematically bringing the worst elements into Sunnyside.

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Anonymous

Thank you Mr. Barnwell! Mr. Van Bramer and CB2, please vote NO. The high majority of residents of the surrounding blocks of this proposed complex who are directly impacted are overwhelmingly against this proposal, for the second time. The opposition by these residents of these blocks need to be heard by the Community Board and Councilman, since they are the ones who will directly have to live with this terrible decision on a day to day basis.

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Gardens Watcher

Yes Senator, by all means, Mr. Weinstein should do his job…that he is paid a total salary of over $800,000 to do.

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