July 26, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Phipps Houses’ plan to build a 10-story, 209-unit development on Barnett Avenue is still on the table.
The City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on August 10. If approved, the controversial plan will go before the City Council.
Phipps presented its plan to build on the 50-25 Barnett Avenue site to the City Planning Commission on July 13. The presentation took place just days after Queens Borough President Melinda Katz rejected the plan.
Katz’ rationale for giving the plan the thumbs down was similar to Community Board 2’s. She cited concerns over its size and scale as well as the income levels for the affordable housing component. Her opinion, as with the community board’s, is merely advisory.
Should the controversial plan be approved by the City Planning Commission, negotiations are likely to take place between the City Council and Phipps in order for the developer to proceed.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who holds sway over the council, has already publicly announced his opposition to the plan.
But Phipps has not given up on the development and remains hopeful that it can make the necessary modifications in order for it to be approved.
“We appreciate the feedback we’ve received from the community so far and will decide which modifications we can reasonably accommodate as part of the City Council’s review of the project,” according to Phipps Houses in a statement.
“We remain hopeful that we can work alongside Council Member Van Bramer to address the genuine affordability crisis faced by so many in Sunnyside and its surrounding neighborhoods.”
Van Bramer has been critical of Phipps for not changing its plans, despite the community’s strong opposition to it.
Phipps has resisted reducing the scale of the project, arguing that it would make the project economically unfeasible.
“I am opposed to this project because it is not right for our community,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “I will continue to be opposed to this project.”
Katz’ opinion issued July 5 was in lockstep with the Community Board’s and Van Bramer’s.
She wrote that she would like to see the height of the building lowered.
The Queens Borough President also argued that the income-bands of the affordable housing component were too high, given Community Board 2’s demographics.
She pointed out that as many as 75 percent of Community District 2 residents would not be able to afford to live in the proposed “moderate income” housing.
“The mix of affordability for this project should be adjusted to reflect the incomes earned by the majority of area residents,” she wrote in her recommendation.
Under the current proposal, 20 percent of the apartments (42 units) would be for households at the 50 percent Area Median Income, 30 percent (62 units) for households at 100 percent AMI, and 50 percent (104 units) for households at 130 percent of AMI, skewing the project in favor of those with higher incomes.
Katz added that she would also like to see the inclusion of a larger community facility space than the proposed 4,000 square feet within the development.
Melinda Katz based her assessment of affordability on the Furman Center’s most recent State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods in 2015 study which showed that 13 percent of households in Queens Community District 2 made $20,000 or less; 20 percent made between $20,000 to $40,000; 19 percent made $40,000 to $60,000; 23 percent made $60,000 to $100,000; 21 percent made $100,000 to $250,000; and 3 percent made over $250,000.
The Queens Borough President also pointed out that infrastructure improvements would be necessary to sustain the neighborhood with the new Phipps development.
Finally, Katz raised the issue of hiring union construction workers to ensure the quality, durability and safety of the development and workers at all stages of the project.