Sept. 20, 2013 By Christian Murray
The controversial plan to develop a former playground site within the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District was voted down by Community Board 2 Thursday night.
The proposal calls for the construction of eight residential units—behind an architecturally significant aluminaire house–on the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street. The site was the former Phipps playground, where many Sunnyside and Woodside residents played as children.
The aluminum house– built in 1931 as a prototype for affordable housing– would be unoccupied and would essentially be an architectural museum piece. The adjacent residential units would be clad with terracotta-colored panels, with a brick pattern.
The apartments would be built in an L-shape around the aluminaire structure, with open public space between them.
The developer’s plans, presented by Michael Schwarting, an architect with Campani and Schwarting Architects, were criticized by more than a dozen Sunnyside Gardens residents from the get-go.
Some of the speakers are calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to preserve the site as open space in its current form—including the old shed and sandbox pavilion. Others are searching for ways to buy the property before it is too late.
However, Ken Fisher, the attorney representing the building owner Harry Otterman, said the site is zoned for development and will not remain an empty lot. “We are able to build eight apartments,” he said, subject to landmarks approval of layout and materials.
The community board based its vote against the plan on the findings of its Land Use Committee. Patrick O’Brien, who spoke last night on behalf of that committee, viewed the aluminum structure—and terracotta-brick residential units—to be “in stark contrast to the surrounding landmark buildings.”
O’Brien said the committee feared that the vacant aluminum house would be vandalized—and would attract problems that could be a nuisance for neighbors. The committee questioned the financial viability of the custodians of the aluminum house.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer spoke at the board meeting and expressed their opposition to it. They both said that Sunnyside Gardens was the wrong location for the aluminum house. Furthermore, they questioned the building materials being used for the residential component of the development.
Congressman Joseph Crowley sent a representative to make clear that he opposed it.
John O’Leary, a 35-year resident, said “no one wants the [aluminaire] structure and no one wants to be responsible for it. Even the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian said ‘no thank you.’ I suggest we say ‘no thank you.’”
Meanwhile, Liz Reynolds, a local resident, said she was concerned that the aluminaire house was a Trojan horse to side track the Landmarks Preservation Commission away from the residential units.
Herb Reynolds, of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, is looking to block the development and search for ways to buy the lot—so it can be converted into a public park.
He said it the site is particularly important since the Phipps outdoor nursery is one of the last “in-tact depression-era playgrounds.”
However, there were a handful of residents who supported the design, including two residents with a deep knowledge of the landmarks procedure.
Jack Freeman, a Sunnyside Gardens resident and a former Landmarks Commissioner, was in favor of it. He said the aluminaire house is of a similar scale as other Sunnyside Gardens properties and actually accentuates the red-brick architecture of the historic district.
Additionally Freeman said that the Landmark commission does not expect a new development to duplicate what is already there.
Laura Heim, a local architect who was a strong advocate of land marking, said that it is inevitable that the site will be developed unless residents can raise the funds to buy it. Given that, Heim said, residents should not automatically dismiss the plan.
She said the proposal does have benefits, such as providing open space to the street. She said the plan is better than a block of L shaped housing.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer spoke at the board meeting and expressed their opposition to it arguing that the aluminum structure would be in the wrong location. Congressman Joseph Crowley sent a representative to make clear that he opposed it too.
The community board, however, only acts as an advisory body, with the Landmarks Preservation Commission ultimately determining whether the development can proceed. It might reject it outright or suggest modifications. That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 15.
The developer has already indicated that he is prepared to bend to the wishes of Landmarks.
For instance, Fisher said he had heard that the community doesn’t care for the terracotta cladding.
“We will ask landmarks what is the most appropriate material,” Fisher said. “If they say [Hudson River] brick, we will go with that.”
my fellow sunnysiders – appears the time has come to mobilize and turn that space into what it was always meant to be all along….a gorgeous green space with seasonal gardens and seating that can double into a weekend locals only flea market where we can truly come together as a community for all to enjoy at no cost. time to organize a committee, work with local sponsors and politicians and raise enough money to buy the park from this nice current owner. may take a while but together we can do this – that is unless you’re perfectly fine with letting outsiders come in here and run rough shod over us and impose their will and vision on what it ought to become. we owe it to the legacy of those who came before us and those who will hear about our heroic efforts to restore the nabe back to it’s original vision. we’ll never know unless we try. we have amazing leaders in this community with world class expertises who would make great stewards of this initiative. if we don’t then we really shouldn’t complain and pretty much deserve what we get. arise, awaken, action
So the house will be an unoccupied museum piece. How long before the squatters break in?
@Mary I know what they are building, my question was about the noise levels and time of construction . . .
“Vacant” is an unpleasant way to say open and full of possibility. Right now trees use it to grow fabulously lush, as they can not in the rest of the city. Soon people will be using it to grow community, if those of us imaginative enough to call it something other than “vacant” have our way.
Woohoo now the parcel of land is safe to remain vacant for another few decades, way to go!!!!!!
@ 43rd Big new glass apartment building. It was covered in the post a while ago.
I’ll take Sunnyside & our easy commute any day over life in Forest
Speaking of construction — what is going on with the big building site on 43rd St. between 43rd Ave. & Skillman Ave.? Incredibly loud construction noise starts well before 8 am. Are they really allowed to do that? If so, who gave them permission to ignore noise laws and how did that go down? The neighborhood couldn’t be more residential, I can’t imagine hundreds of people love waking up to jackhammers every morning.
Sunnyside Gardens was always called “the poor man’s Forest Hills,” but this new crowd doesn’t want to know that.
Forest Hills Gardens more upscale.
@ Sycamore–good historical analysis of the architectural design of the north side. This was originally intended as working class housing back in the 20s and 30s. Come to think of it, much housing now viewed as “upmarket”, including much of Manhattan was originally tenement housing or maybe one step above.
@Krissi–I disagree somewhat. We do have historically significant buildings over here on the south side; many of the buildings are original art deco jobs from the 30s. At the time though that was considered common housing stock.
Let the sand kings build something there.
@Krissi I agree. But the architects are attracted NoQue because of the “snob” factor.
I’ve lived in NoQue all my life. I had no idea we were considered snobs until lately. I didn’t think anything about this side was better except the trees.
The apartments are tiny, not like the ones in SoQue. The houses are like shotgun sheds in the south. Two rooms on the main floor, tiny kitchen, three small bedrooms upstairs. And I mean small.
Don’t let ’em fool ya. The house slook good because the whole place had a good designer, but the places are miniscule. Miniscule. They were built for working class people. My grandfather worked on boilers, my grandmother was a cook.
The folks paying millions for these places drank Bloomberg’s Koolaid, that’s all.
I know I will probably get a lot of poop for this, but as a Southside resident, I wouldn’t be that upset if it came over to the south of Queens Boulevard. I can understand why the Gardens wouldn’t want it over there, but we on the southside don’t have much in terms of historical homes and I think this might help bring some business to, say 48th Ave or where ever. Thoughts?
Make this a place for a flea market… Sunnyside Flea Market.
Can a community be “ummarked” as landmarked?
Sunnyside gardens. Get a life. You and your property are no better than any other part of Sunnyside . You just think you are!!!
Parking spaces? In the meanwhile, no security cameras.
I, too, think the trees are the best part of the neighborhood. And I love to give credit to the man who executed the designer’s plan, my grandfather, Patrick Corrigan, who lived at 48-08 39th Avenue.
It seemed my uncles, Timothy, Matthew, Patrick and William used some variation of the following story to undermine his sons’ arguments against working around the house: “No backtalk! My father got me out of bed at the crack of dawn every Saturday for a year to plant trees on the streets of Sunnyside. Get to work.”
My guess is he won a competitive bidding process because he had his own work force. Since I am descended from one of his daughters, Margaret Corrigan Caulfield, I didn’t hear that story until about ten years ago.
I’m the only descendant of that family remaining here, so I’m putting the story out there for the history books.
Form a committee, do whatever it takes to prevent them for building. “NOTHING BUT A PARK”? It’ll diminish the appeal and livability of the gardens, thus inevitably effecting your property value. Let the gardens remain green! Sorry for the slogans, I just really adore the gardens…
I don’t understand why you Gardeners have allowed this charming park to remain fenced in! You guys should roll up your sleeves and bring that park up to par. There are even volunteer organizations who can help you guys out. Get involved… Don’t let these greedy developers ruin the gardens by building a monstrosity!
Good one webley
There is nothing special about the garden houses it’s a nice neighborhood but mostly because of the trees, defiantly not because of the architecture or the way they were built , if we were talking about another landmark neighborhood such as forest hills gardens where the houses do have some sort of character or beauty in the Aractecture then it would be different
If anyone had a issue with the vacant lot or any house in Sunnyside gardens, put your money where your mouth is and fix it and if you can’t just mind your own business
Mark and Kristen, you guys need to speak up and get together to end this nonsense called “Landmark” keeping ugly crappy sh*t from last century in place for so called preservation of junk. Half of sunnyside gardens properties are in desperate need of repair, yet most owners do not dare touch knowing the consequences, and not to mention the poor souls who buy a property not realizing they can’t put a nail up on their walls without first checking 500 page rule book that lists 50 different properties and dare to call them different type of landmarks. I won’t even go into details about the courtyards..
@ Mr. Novak So, which side do you stand on here? (Not!)
Say it loud and proud, Mr. N. You go.
I’m surprised. The developers usually get their way. Hopefully, this decision is final.
I agree with Mark, it’s ridiculous to entertain this meanwhile homeowners need permits to replace windows that are exactly the same!
No one feels entitled to it, doc.
People have been trying for years to work with owners to put it to commuity use. It is only since Bloombergitis befell us that the efforts have become public. There are plans afoot to raise the money to buy it from the developer. No one wants to deprive anyone of anything. “Improvement” is in the eye of the beholder.
Please save your amazement for things that really are amazing.
The entitlement people feel to property that they do not own never ceases to amaze me.
While it certainly is different from what’s around it, I like the idea. Historically significant, public space to enjoy and a few additional housing units. The empty lot will inevitably be sold to a developer who will build some ugly cheap housing on it, complete with chrome bannisters and balconies that become outdoor storage. I’d much prefer this.
It’s amazing that landmarks would even consider this at the same time they go after homeowners who make minor adjustments to their property. My neighbor was just forced to remove a beautiful 2 foot wall made of Belgian Block that he built around his front yard.
Well, it is right across the street from me. It is ugly. Let the architects give it to a place lots and lots of architects will see it. This is a community, not a museum mile.
I feel bad for the developer, but no one wants it here. One person’s desire for profit should really be dimmed in light of the fact so much damage will be done.
Just let it go, Otterman. Take your money and build somewhere else. There are plenty of ugly places that need tearing down. Why fill in when people are crying to you for relief? Did you ever hear of Karma?