May 3, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The city has taken a significant step forward toward the development of Sunnyside Yards, formally announcing a lead consultant to form a master plan and a steering committee comprised of local leaders to help shape it.
Work on the master plan will begin over the summer, the city announced today, where it is anticipated to take 18 months to put together a framework for the 180-acre site–long slated for development.
The plan is expected to delve into features like residential units, affordability, schools, parkland, and more at the site, along with development phases and a potential timeline to carry the plan out.
The plan will be developed by a consulting team led by the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism. The team includes experts in structural engineering, landscape architecture, and financial and legal analysis.
The consultants will work with the newly-formed Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee, an approximately 35-member panel that includes a medley of community leaders, local elected officials, and planning experts. Members from Community Board 1 and 2, local civic and education group heads, and transit advocates are just some of the stakeholders in the committee.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation, the agency managing Sunnyside Yards’ potential development, made the joint announcement with Amtrak, which owns the majority of the yards.
The national railroad company, which first approached the city about the project in 2014, recently signed a letter of intent to formalize collaboration on the master planning process with the city.
The announcement comes just over a year after the Sunnyside Yard Feasibility Study was released. The study said over 80 percent of the yard could potentially be decked over and developed with up to 24,000 residential units, 19 schools and 52 acres of public parks.
The EDC and Amtrak explained their reasons for wanting to develop the yards, and details on what the 18-month master planning process will look like.
Cali Williams, the newly-appointed Director of Sunnyside Yard, a new role within the EDC, said developing the yards is needed to address a string of current and future infrastructure and affordability problems relating to the city’s continuing population growth. She said 80,000 more people are expected to live in Queens over the next 20 years—at a conservative estimate.
“Sunnyside Yards is part of the solution,” Williams said. “It’s an opportunity to address these challenges and do so in a way that integrates into the established surrounding neighborhoods.”
While decking over the Sunnyside Yards is not a new idea, with concepts stretching back nearly a century ago, Amtrak officials say now is the right time to develop a plan, considering their own rail projects down the line.
“There’s a lot of things that are happening now at the track level that we’re currently working on,” said Anthony Navarro, Amtrak Gateway Program Director. “Now is the time to work with the city to meet our goals’ operational demands with an eye towards developing this site. We can do it in conjunction.”
Williams added that the feasibility study showed rail lines place limits on what can be built at the yards, including buildings and open spaces. Additional rail infrastructure, she said, would make overbuild less feasible.
The steering committee, co-chaired by Elizabeth Lusskin, President of the LIC Partnership, and Sharon Greenberger, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York, will provide a “fresh perspective” on what can and should be built over the yards, not necessarily reflecting the scenarios of the feasibility study.
The committee will first determine key areas of focus for the long-term plan and consider ways to engage the public in the process. The group will also hold quarterly meetings, where community voices will speak to neighborhood priorities while technical experts on the panel will translate voiced needs to the consultant team.
“We’ve been very purposeful to include a diverse set of local stakeholders and diverse perspectives as part of the steering committee,” Williams said. “We see Sunnyside Yards as an opportunity to meet a lot of the goals of local stakeholders, whether it mean open space, schools, affordable housing, or transportation improvements.”
The Sunnyside Yards Director says there will be plenty of opportunities, whether through open houses, one-on-one meetings, and more, for the public to weigh in on the master plan.
In addition, the EDC and Amtrak will seek to work with the MTA, which owns a significant portion of the yards, on the master plan and conversations on the project.
“It’s always been our goal to work with the MTA,” Wililams said. “We’ve had conversations in the past with the MTA–through this 18 month effort we’re looking for more opportunities to work with the MTA.”
The extent of the state-run MTA’s involvement so far in the project is unclear, but Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said no to the possibility.
A spokesperson for the EDC added that all local elected officials at the city, state and federal levels have been invited to participate in the master planning.
A set date or month in the summer for the master planning process’ kick off has yet to be released. While the process is expected to take 18 months, planning could take up to two years, according to the EDC.