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Phipps Houses Presents its Case for Barnett Building, But Few Are Won Over

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Local Residents at Town Hall Meeting

Oct. 30, 2015 By Christian Murray

More than 200 residents attended a town hall meeting Monday to learn more about Phipps Houses’ proposed plan to build a 10-story, 220-unit building at 50-24 Barnett Avenue.

The meeting was set up following heavy opposition from residents about the plan when it became public in June. The criticism has largely dealt with the scale of the proposed building and how it would lead to parking and other infrastructure problems.  While there have been advocates for the project, they have been very much in the minority.

The two-hour, standing-room-only meeting was held at the Phipps Garden Apartments Conference Center and was organized by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in conjunction with Community Board 2 and Phipps Houses.

Van Bramer, who said he had already received more than 1,000 signatures in opposition to the project, said that he organized the meeting in order for attendees to see the same presentation he had seen directly from Phipps.

Councilman Van Bramer, Adam Weinstein

Councilman Van Bramer, Adam Weinstein

Adam Weinstein, the chief executive of Phipps Houses, with the help of his architect and project manager, provided attendees with a rundown of the current plans.

The plan involves the construction of between 200 and 220 units, which would be 10 stories at the building’s highest point.  There would be 200 parking spaces, more than the 109 required by zoning, according to Herbert Mandel, architect and partner with MHG Architects. There would also be a pre-K on the western end of the site.

The building would be set back from the road and there would be two rows of trees along the street.

The apartments would be 100 percent affordable:

  • 20 percent of the units would be for those earning $28,000 to $44,000.
  • 30 percent of the units would be for those earning $50,000 to $115,000.
  • 50 percent would be for those earning $75,000 to $150,000.

Phipps would receive favorable financing terms from the city if it were to construct the affordable building.

In return, the city would require the units to be “permanently affordable,” where the rent could only go up by the same percentage as determined by the Rent Guidelines Board or by the increase in Area Median Income (the lesser of the two figures).

The tenants would be selected via a lottery and, according to the rules, 50 percent of the winners would have to come from within the confines of Community Board 2, which incorporates Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City.

The site is currently zoned for manufacturing and it needs to be rezoned in order for construction to take place.

Phipps, therefore, has to put forward a formal plan that undergoes the ULURP process, where the community board, Queens Borough president, Dept. of City Planning and the City Council get to review the project. The Community Board and Borough President offer advisory opinions, while City Planning and the Council are able to block it.

The City Council’s decision will essentially be determined by Van Bramer, since it is Council protocol for members to follow the recommendation of the Councilperson who represents the district where the building would be located.

Van Bramer on Monday said he had “concerns” about the project and that “the plan would have to be approved by me and City Council for this to happen.”

Phipps’ project has yet to undergo this formal ULURP process and therefore remains only a proposal.

Attendees had particular concerns about parking, since the existing lot has approximately 215 parking spaces that are used by residents, workers and small business owners.

Herb Reynolds, the president of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, said that with the reduction of parking spaces and the addition of 200-plus units, the crowding issue will be made worse. He said parking was in big demand since the existing 472-unit Phipps apartment complex does not include on-site parking.

Mandel said he would be surprised if half the 200 parking spaces that it plans to build would be used by the tenants based on previous experience. Therefore there would still be a lot left over for residents.

Meanwhile, one man was concerned about parking and small-business owners.

“The parking lot services a lot of small business people who work in this neighborhood and have trucks and vans,” he said.  “How does you proposal accommodate them, how will it satisfy their needs?”

Weinstein said he could sympathize with this problem.

However, he noted, “we are Phipps Houses, not Phipps small business parking. “

Meanwhile, an employee of Steve Madden, which is located near the site, said that the firm uses about 100 parking spaces at the lot and the 500-employee headquarters may be forced to relocate. The woman said that this would be detrimental to many of the small businesses—such as restaurants—for the company to leave.

Existing lot

Existing lot

Weinstein said that while that would be unfortunate the new tenants would make up for some of the lost business.

Many attendees argued that the schools in the neighborhood are overcrowded and that the building would just add to the problem.

Christine McKay-Vega, a Sunnyside mother of a middle school student, said that she walks her son to Growing Up Green Middle School in Long Island City since the neighborhood lacks middle school seats.

A Woodside elementary school principal also attended the meeting and pointed out how stretched the local schools are.

Weinstein said that the building would likely house about 60-school age children based on a widely used formula. He said the 60 children would then be spread across 12 grades, which would equate to about 5 additional children per grade.

Weinstein said that he would like to add his voice to the choir calling for more schools in the neighborhood, adding that he did reach out to the Department of Education to see if it wanted to acquire the site for a school, but the agency didn’t want it.

Others expressed doubts as to whether the street was wide enough to handle the increased traffic. They wondered how school buses and garbage trucks would be able to get up the street.

“We have to do an environmental analysis, and a traffic study will indicate what traffic flow is on the street, but we have built many buildings in comparable situations,” Weinstein said, indicating that it shouldn’t pose a problem.

He also said such studies would be conducted to determine the noise coming from the trains and the site’s environmental condition. He said the building would meet all requirements.

The additional ridership of the 7 train was also raised.

Weinstein said, “I don’t think 200 apartments is going to tip the needle,” adding that he could quibble with people as to how many riders may come from the development. He said he would like to get behind the movement of calling for better subway service.

During the meeting, Van Bramer asked attendees to raise their hand if they opposed the development, which the overwhelming majority did.

There were a few attendees who supported the project.

One woman said that there is a big need for affordable housing and said that many people are leaving the neighborhood since they can no longer afford to live here. She said that she knows several other people that want the building to be constructed.

Van Bramer told the woman that those who want the project should also be reaching out to his office to notify him of their support.

Meanwhile, one resident said the rendering looks good and that the area needs housing of that type. He said that the development would stop the site from being used for manufacturing.

Weinstein said that if the affordable housing development doesn’t go ahead, Phipps might sell the property for $10 to $15 million, which could be used for light manufacturing.

Pat O’Brien, chairman of Community Board 2, asked the audience to send the board and Van Bramer’s office their opinions on the project.

He said that the board will try to take into consideration everything people say while the process takes place.

He added that the board will notify the public the moment that Phipps starts the formal ULURP process.

MHG Architects

MHG Architects

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28 Comments

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skills man

1. we don’t have the infrastructure to handle this building – schools, roads, trains – this impacts everyone regardless of class.
2. Phipps building is not maintained. who will keep this one up??
3. building is huge and out of character….

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Mic Drop

Look, the bottom line is that the bulk of people who are against this are well off car owning residents of Sunnyside Gardens. Is the building too big? Yes, maybe Van Bramer can negotiate a smaller building. But frankly, being for affordable housing but not in my backyard is hypocrisy. They have to build it somewhere! If parking is the reason you are against this, you should seriously move to the suburbs. This is New York City! Look at the optics of the opposition here. It’s not good.

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Neutral Observer

I am disabled, live on SSD. I have a 13 year old car. My brothers chip in to pay insurance, repairs and tickets Cause I cant walk far. Without it, I’m stuck.

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ugh

This is a middle/working class neighborhood, the so called well off are newer to the area. I am not well off but all the changes to the neighborhood are removing the charm that attracted people in the first place. Many people bash those of us who are opposed to zoning changes that allow high rises where a single story building once was, but does no one realize all this “progress” is driving the rental prices through the roof? Across the street from me, a one bedroom that was once $1500 per month just rented for $2650 because they added a breakfast bar and new floors. Mom & pop type shops that used to line the neighborhood are dissappearing because few others but chain stores can afford the rent. We’re not against progress, but don’t want the feel and charm of the neighborhood to disappear like the local movie house.

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seriously?

If it’s up to Van Bramer to make the final decision, good luck.

He has no interest in preserving anything for our community. only in getting his name mentioned and recognition.

Did you see the giant pink monstrosity he and the community board approved on Jackson Avenue?

he’s a useless turd to our community.

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Klunker

Just what we need another 200 trick or treaters for next year, why can’t we get little paid parking permits in this hood

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Sue

What is with all the senior citizen bashing? One day befote you know, you will be one also. Show some respect.

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mr longwang silver

sunnyside gardens is filled with white clinton + sanders liberal socialists. But the second we mention affordable housing in their neighborhood they go all berserk. such phonies….

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Lisa

Sunnyside Gardens and the surrounding area is filled with people like me who grew up in this area, who like the small town feel, and don’t want that to change. Stop stereotyping us and for God’s sake, just because I’m over 50, doesn’t mean I’m old. People who subscribe to this notion are just plain rude and don’t deserve to live among the fine people who live here.

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Your Neighbor

Thank you, Lisa, for speaking up. All your words are true. We near the 50-year mark have another 30 years as members of this community. Newcomers who insult us are mostly just to young to know they will not be young forever. We know their insults are as valid as an infant crying, “It’s not fair!” They are wrong, noisy and try one’s patience. But they are part of life.

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mr longwang silver

of course few in attendence were swayed, the audience was filled with people who already have what they have (homes), they, like yourself, probably have already acheived their american dream. So now you gotta close the door on other young people who could benefit and need raise their family in a nice area like SSG?

I will go back to my original point that people there want to keep their version of their dream alive and are phonies for cutting off others from entering. You become little Trump’s and want to erect a fence rather than let someone and their family fulfill a dream. Its a big growing city, other people need homes also. And next time they should make sure people from outside the area to attend to voice the other side

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Mo

LOL! I guess you weren’t there and haven’t read the proposals. Approximately 1/3 of the units are zoned for Senior Long Term Care Facilities. Imagine, massive amounts of old people walking around with their hime health aides in tow. We can rename it Senior City.

BTW, I’m a renter like you. I moved out of Manhattan to this place 18 yrs ago before it was #1hip place to live. I moved here because out of the East Village was crawling with college students and over pretentious hipsters. Its now time to move out before the place is crawling with wheelchairs.

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Avoid the Noid

When I win the lottery I’m going to buy several houses on Skillman and give rent free rooms to inner city youth, abandoned babies, people recovering from severe psychological disorders, and Liberians.

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Pete

The problem isn’t affordable housing per se, but this particular proposal at this particular location. It’s too high density of the lot and the surrounding streets. The current proposal is a 10-story building, which is four more than the traditional limit in this district for residential housing. Additionally, there are no existing plans for a new middle school or for that matter any kind of school to be built in the vicinity. Presumably, at least some of the tenants will have children which will further overcrowd the current system. Also, the parking lot will have around 200 spots, but my understanding is that they will be reserved for residents of the building and no one else. The developer claimed that some of the spots might be left over, but that’s hard to determine. And as is commonly the case with “affordable housing” in NYC, it’s not affordable for most people given the average income numbers for the neighborhood, which is currently about $35,000 for an individual.

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Mo

The problem is that the Zoning plan will bring over 100,000 people into LIC, Sunnyside and Woodside alone. The project you refer to will automatically pass once the City Council votes on MIH/QAZ Plan. Schools, sewers, the electric grid, cell towers are at capacity. When there’s torrential downpours the sewers back up and overflow into some buildings and businesses.

Have you notice how Con Ed trucks park on the streets throughout sunny side & woodside in the summer? Its because of the electrical cable fires that happen in the summer last year a fire melted data and tv cable company cables. Some years ago we had 13 days without power.

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Anonymous visitor

The traffic has nowhere to get out of and onto Barnett, especially from Woodside Avenue. There is no easy outlet there, crooked, cramped and crowded as it is. And the street is one way for one block, which screws up things royally. Living right on the tracks is for the birds. Very unhealthy.

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Sunnyslide

I actually like they are building middle income housing but think they need to limit it to 6 stories in order to keep the neighborhood’s feel.

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Mo

Under the new rezoning rules to be voted on Nov. 5th by the Community boards in Queens, Nov 16th by Borough President and Dec 5th at City Council, ALL current and future parking lots will outlawed in areas where there are trains citywide. All this bickering will Be mute and the building will go up as planned without any parking. It was nice of Van Bramer and Phipps to do this but the building will go up because Community Board members sent a letter to the NYC Planning in support of construction of affordable housing so whatever anyone things or says in the community is meaningless!

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Your Neighbor

Parking lots near trains will be outlawed? Is that what you said? And buildings will replace them? I seriously doubt anyone would bother to go through that painful exercise if a law was going to pass that settled the matter. Why would an architect design a parking lot if it was going to be outlawed? Your reasoning is faulty.

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Matt

They should build the 200 apartments on an, unused backstreet or on a parking lot or something, and not in the Sunnyside Gardens park.

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Del Toro

I don’t think I read anything bad about “sc”. I was stating the obvious, attendance was mostly old folks because come on who has time for this? Get the the point, give us what’s discussed and the bottom line and move on. If we want to read this whole copy/paste report, we could have attended the meeting.

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Craic Dealer

I’d rather have a 10 story nail salon. What side of the table is Jimmy Jean Claude Van Bramer on?

Reply

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