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Borough President Katz a Big Supporter of Building Over the Yards, Despite Western Queens Leaders’ Trepidation

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Feb. 27, 2015 By Christian Murray

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has been a strong advocate for decking over the Sunnyside Yard for months—despite the cool reception it has received from western Queens leaders.

Katz began advocating for developing the yards in September, when she announced that they have the “potential for extraordinary development.”

Katz plays an important role in what ultimately happens to the Yards since the area would need to be rezoned before construction could begin. The community board and the borough president would get to weigh in on a rezoning—before it is shuffled along to the City Planning Commission for review and then the city council.

At the council level, Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer would have the ultimate say.

Borough President Melinda Katz

Borough President Melinda Katz

In September, Katz released a 138-page strategic policy statement where she said that the “partial or complete decking of the Sunnyside Rail Yards has the potential for extraordinary development.” She added that it is the largest parcel of ‘vacant’ land remaining in the city.

At the October community board meeting, Queens residents became more aware of Katz’ position when former CB2 chairman Joe Conley said that he had been in discussions with her about building over the Yards. He then called on the board to write a letter to Katz calling for a feasibility study.

While many members of the board were caught off guard by Conley’s request, they were eventually swayed by him and voted in favor of sending Katz the letter.

Conley was then subject to heavy criticism for requesting the letter.

These letters are often used by public officials and city planners to move ahead with studies—allowing them to claim they have the community’s support. For example, Conley’s letter last year calling for affordable housing in Queens Plaza was cited as a reason why city planners are studying the area for a potential up zoning.

Katz is well versed in city real estate matters. She had worked at the law firm Greenberg Traurig from 2009-2012, where she was a land use adviser for real estate companies. She took that position after being a city council member from 2002-2009, where she chaired the land use committee.

On Feb. 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City address that he wanted to build 11,250 units above Sunnyside Yards, which received a frosty reception from western Queens leaders.

Katz, meanwhile, was publicly advocating for it. At the Queens Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast meeting Feb. 17, she said:

“We need to figure out how to utilize the property in a good way and I think housing is a great way,” reported the Queens Chronicle that covered the event. “Figuring out how to pay for it is the follow-up. … But it needs to be done carefully and it needs to be done in tandem with the community.”

De Blasio then announced last week that the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sought a consulting firm to undertake a one-year study to determine whether building over the Yards is feasible. The administration is seeking requests for proposal from firms that would essentially provide recommendations.

“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it can contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Katz’ spokeswoman, in an e-mail Tuesday wrote: “This feasibility study is a step in the right direction, and Borough President Katz looks forward to engaging community input.”

The e-mail also said: “Borough President Katz recognizes that potential development above the Sunnyside Rail Yards is attractive given the current growth and development throughout Long Island City and western Queens.”

However, western Queens leaders have been alarmed by the plan.

CatherineNolan-250x250Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan was quick to announce that she had ‘grave concerns ’ about the plans. State Sen. Mike Gianaris was essentially against it—by saying only if it had community support, while Van Bramer continued to argue that the infrastructure would not be able to cope with it.

Nolan also said in a statement that such development would have “the potential to tremendously damage the middle class quality of life of our western Queens communities.”

Nolan then announced that she had hired local attorney Ira Greenberg on a part time basis to monitor de Blasio’s plan and to work with agencies, residents and other parties to make sure the community’s voice is heard.

State Sen. Mike Gianaris sent out a mailing to his constituents recently, which said that the building of new housing units should be secondary to meeting the community’s existing infrastructure needs.

Van Bramer, who has told the mayor that he supports the concept of affordable housing, has expressed doubts as to whether it should be in western Queens. He has consistently been saying that area is already in need of schools and parks—and continues to discuss the poor performing No. 7 train.

He said the Queensboro Plaza/Court Square area is likely to be rezoned that will bring affordable housing as well an influx of people.

“We have are a lot of challenges that we face today,” Van Bramer said at a recent civic association meeting, “let alone with a 100,000 more people.”

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39 Comments

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BIG PARK.

Hey DiBlasio,

Buy out those warehouses and the church by Skillman and 40st. Deck that over across to northenrn blvd and put up a BIG PARK for all incomes to enjoy!

Reply
Billy

@ Pete
I hear what you are saying, with the Astoria waterfront development featuring $2700/month “affordable” one bedrooms, which is just comical. Bloomberg proved a wiz at ramming expensive development projects down the city’s throat with the requisite (wink wink) affordable housing, while giving unprecedented tax breaks to companies like Goldman. I do believe DeBlasio will be more forthright in what he’s trying to do and I’m hopeful that there will be more affordable housing to restore the balance in the city a bit. I’m not holding my breadth, but at least he’s trying. Sure it will have a huge impact on Sunnyside and the surrounding areas, but it will be distributed between at least 4 train lines. We won’t have the same level of train issues similar to the L at Bedford which simply cannot accommodate the amount of development in Williamsburg.
I wish the whole thing could be a park but that’ll never happen.

Reply
Patricia Dorfman

Board members of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, an independent merchant group since 1947, of which I was recently hired as director, are inviting officials from NYCEDC, the lead agency on the decking, to come hear the concerns of small businesses – given the loss of businesses near NYC mega projects in the past – and ask how they plan to address those concerns. As soon as there is a date and place, it will be announced.

As far as I know, there have been no public events held by city agencies or officials to get public feedback or tell us more, and as yet, no long-term community group has made a formal press release in opposition.

All of us are free to attend public meetings of Community Board 2. The next meeting is this Thursday, March 5, 7pm, at Sunnyside Community Services. It is my understanding that the past CB2 chairman sent a letter of community support calling for a feasibility study to be done on the yards.

For now, I am with a few others speaking for the ad hoc committee of 20, whose names are on the online petition, from all walks of life and affiliations, who very much oppose the decking of the yards, the lack of public hearings, lack of interest in feedback in what was described as a “major game changer” by our mayor, and was the centerpiece of his State of the City address.

Something which would change all of our local lives so drastically seems to be, if you will pardon the term, being railroaded through without giving those most effected even a place at the table.

If anyone wants to help gather signatures, or join the group, or offer advice, please write [email protected]
twitter: #dontdeckqueens

Reply
Billy

Anyone who thinks the Sunnyside rail yards is not going to be developed is living in a dream world. It is too large and close to the city to remain underutilized. Due to excessively poor urban planning over 200+ years Western Queens has massive cemeteries everywhere instead of parks.
Once upon a time Sunnyside was a welcoming place for the middle class to build their lives, raise a family and grow. Property was affordable, the schools were decent and it is very close to Manhattan. Now you have an entire generation of people who paid very little for their Sunnyside Gardens homes seeing the value of their properties skyrocket to one million +. There is often the anti development ruse of “what about our community” or “the train is going to be too crowded”, but what it really boils down to is: “I’m all set, I shouldn’t have to care or worry about anyone else because it’s not my problem”. And if you ask some of these people on their stance, they are “liberal” who support the “middle class”, as long as “it’s not in their backyard”.
Newsflash, a new generation of people deserves to have affordable housing available close to the city, just like you got. DeBlasio should be commended on his promise of more affordable housing after 12 years of Bloomberg development greed and running the city like a corporation.

Reply
Pete

There are two problems though: the housing isn’t going to be affordable. As Pat notes, this is always the political “Trojan horse” used by politicians in this town when they need to satiate the real estate lobby. Second, one shouldn’t equate this with persons who moved here in the past when the place was more affordable. What they are talking about doing here is going to have a huge impact on all sorts of infrastructure including, yes, the trains. How could it not?

Also, do you really believe that DeBlasio is on the level here? I agree that things got out of hand development-wise during the Bloomberg years, but has that suddenly changed over the past 13 months? Aren’t those same interests still in place?

Reply
doodoodoo

depending on where it’s located it’ll also impact the R/M line and the N/Q line, it’s not limited to the 7. everyone just keeps harping on the 7 like it’s the only train in the world. sunnyside is a tiny, tiny neighborhood and it’s unfortunately not the sunnyside i grew up in, but guess what, it NEVER will be. nothing just stays the same, especially not in new york. Billy is the only person who has made a logical argument in this entire thread.

Reply
Pete

I’m not suggesting that it would just be the 7, but the argument is all the better made if it upends service on other lines as well. I mention the 7 because I, like many of the commenters here, live in Sunnyside and that is our only option in terms of trains. I agree that nothing stays the same in New York, but that doesn’t mean that politicians and and greedy real estate moguls can simply carve through neighborhoods at will. Resistance to this proposal isn’t a disavowal of change, it’s a call to community action and it’s part of the democratic process.

Reply
doodoodoo

fair enough, but I think it’s best to assume that because of their power it will indeed happen, and that we should try to make the best of it and ask for them to take us into consideration rather than to try to stop it all together.

Willow

Newsflash! You are falling for the fallacy. There will be very little affordable housing, if any.

Reply
Skillman Ave Resident

How about covering the yard and planting some grass and trees.There is only one park with grass in Sunnyside and it is private and closed for most of the people.

Reply
Patricia Dorfman

OldenDays: u r right; insensitive. we will change…any suggestions? so far suggested – don’ttreadonqueens, don’tdeckqueens. or maybe something positive? queenskeepers, peopleforqueens, peopleofqueens

Reply
OldenDays

i like Don’t Tread on Queens, Queens Keepers is also a good one if you’re looking for something positive. i think that’s a good idea actually, keeping it positive. Western Queens Alliance…Queens United….something like that maybe?

Reply
OldenDays

Pat, you really need to lay off the “Queens Lives Matter.” I agree with the sentiment but i can’t think of a more tone-deaf slogan. You will make the rest of the city hate us with that. We need all the friends we can get right now.

Reply
open your eyes bot

is Pat really crazy? or maybe she knows something we all don’t? El loco wa have you done or said that will benefit this community. Pats right about this situation. Many families in Sunnyside can not afford the uprising rents and whos to blame? The poor families who found their home in Sunnyside and now forced to move somewhere cheaper? Or is the real estate and Developers who thinks about all the money they can make by kicking them out? idk about you guys but i i can see after sunnyside gets expensive woodsides next to come. Maybe i should make Woodsidepost and have people blog about how excited they are to pay crazy amount of money for rent.

Reply
Will0w

Lessons will improve your reading comprehension and your ability to focus on a subject with more than one or two factor working together.

Reply
Luvu2

Pat this is a gay parade and it is not about cherishing children so please knock off your talking points . Having said that the yards project is a bad idea

Reply
El loco

How about being more concerned about current problems in Sunnyside like empty stores, graffiti all over the place and a dysfunctional subway system. I have confidence in Cathy Nolan. She’ll stop the Yards project. Or I’ll be dead by the time its completed. How come apartment buildings are constructed so quickly while transportation projects take forever? Because government builds the transport projects.

Reply
La Mujer

Plenty of people focus on current problems. We need farsighted ones to see those just developing and prepare the battle ground for the rest of the folks who will pick up arms against it when they finally see it.

Reply
El loco

Hey Pat:

Can you be more boring or full of yourself. Even if you have a point who wants to read your long winded rants.

Reply
Patricia Dorfman

——–
WHERE IS THAT PERSON?
Where is the resident or small biz owner in favor of building this new city – with it planned stores and streets connected to existing streets – who will sign his or her name and address here? If you click “dislike,” self ID and tell why.
———-
QUEENS’ LIVES MATTER
Why will real estate interests make so much at the cost of all our lives in the Trojan horse of so-called affordable housing? Don’t our Queens’ lives matter? When you dig the first scoop of soil, who will celebrate?
———-
SOME THINK THE PROBLEM IS OVER
We now have close to 800 and over 400 online. Eventually, we will reach everyone not connected to the administration or big real estate. Many people ask if the project is already stopped. They are not aware of the influence big money is having in the halls of power. Local press is doing its job. We need to speak up.
———-
SMALL BUSINESS IS TOAST
Virtually all businesses around NYC mega projects, i.e. original WTC, High Line, and current Brooklyn downtown were displaced. How will the Economic Development Corporation, the lead agency, stop the loss of hundreds of small businesses?
———-
OUR CONSENT
Skillman Avenue is a nice street with small shops and restaurants. How long will that last with QB and Greenpoint high-rises going on one side and a new city on the other? On Sunday, officials will march with the Mayor to show solidarity for right of all children to be cherished equally on a street about to be overrun by congestion and price hikes. Please cherish our children now. Our government has the right to operate by “consent of the governed.” Silence = consent.
———-
FRIGHTENING CHANGES TO COME
Who wants the coming contiguous cross streets planned north/south adding to our congestion? How can we bear a worse commute? Do we have adequate schools, public playgrounds for children? Billions and billions needed for this are coming from where? Water, sewage, clean air, parking, schools, parks, toxic waste burying – how? With whose money?
———-
ABOUT MONEY
The plan is that developers include lower cost rental units with much greater number of luxury units to make worth their while, with tax breaks. Queens would turn into a second rate suburb of Manhattan with congestion and high cost, with no upside. This area is not a troubled area needing revitalization. This is a piece of Queens that people who hunger after money are grabbing from us as Pete here says.
———-
ONLY A GIANT PARK OR LEAVE ALONE
Why do the yards have to be developed? Who is complaining about them?
Only those who seek to make boatloads of money from them or reward special interests talk about this as progress, leadership, or as inevitable. Yards decking is explained as about needed affordable housing. Does anyone believe this?
———-
ELECTED: PLEASE DO THE RIGHT THING
We can name small local sites next week the city can develop immediately, which won’t have a negative impact. A Turkish saying has it that “it is never too late to turn back from a wrong road.” How is listening to constituents a bad thing?
———-
LAST CHANCE DANCE
And to those out there who hope others someone is taking care of this; they are not. If they grab the western end, the rest is gone. We don’t have a good record of speaking up in Queens. Often, we hope that someone somewhere is going to do the right thing. They cannot without us speaking out. Our trust, lack of time, or apathy has caused us to lose and lose and lose to Manhattan, to those with more money and influence. Anyone reading this is relatively wealthy. But if we do not take the time to even write an email, we have consented.
———-
Community Board 2 email:
[email protected]
Borough President Katz :
718-286-3000 or [email protected]

Sign: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/124/232/303/please-do-not-build-over-the-sunnyside-yards/

Reply
Anonymous visitor

It shouldn’t even say please.
The message of all of Western Queens should be ‘you vote for sunnyside yards – we vote for your opponent in the next election’

Reply
open your eyes bot

Sunnyside is changing. Rumors had it that sunnyside gardens in the future will be demolished. All these politicians are only interested in the money and could care less about the community. I say we elect me as a representative for sunnyside and ill make sure Marijuana is legal.. besides that, no more exploiting the citizens of Sunnyside. Think about the people moving in and out of your building… i could only recall a couple of old tenants. anyways vote for me.

Reply
El kabong

Cathy Nolan is another pasty faced politician in our neighborhood who doesn’t represent the community. People like her and Conley, Crowley, Van Bramer continue to be shoved down our throats by the Queens Democratic machine. Enough. We want politicians that are more representative of our community.

Reply
El loco

Hey genius when was the last time that you voted? When I voted in November most if the Democrats were unopposed. Should I write myself in?

Reply
Pete

This is a classic land grab. Any housing on this site will not be “affordable” for those who really need affordable. I’m also trying to imagine the 7 train, parking, policing, electricity,and fire service with tens of thousands more residents in the area.Earth to Melinda: YOUR constituents don’t want this. We’ll find out soon if that matters to you at all.

Reply
Sunnysider

Use this weekend’s parade to tell the Democrat bigwigs we don’t want Di Blasio and Katz’s Sunnyside Yards development.

Reply
Anonymous visitor

Katz, affair with a douche who cheats.
Katz, land use comm chair, then lawyer, then politician – conflict of interests
Katz – living in deep Queens, driving a car, giving a sh*t
JVB – against it but easily bought off by xx affordable units as shown by Wolkoff 5PTZ rezoning

Reply
waffle house fan

“For the next 26 weekends, “No Trains Between Queensborough Plaza and 42nd Street- Shuttle buses will be provided”

Imagine that with 100,000 more people!

Cant we just build a big waffle house? everyone loves waffles

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