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Phipps’ Rezoning Application Faces Headwinds, Developer Slammed at Public Hearing

Rendering of Phipps’ current plan for 50-25 Barnett Ave.

Nov. 19, 2020 By Christian Murray

A non-profit development group that seeks to build a 7-story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside came under heavy fire at a public hearing Wednesday night.

Phipps Houses, which owns and manages the Phipps Gardens Apartment complex in Sunnyside, was lambasted at the hearing by its existing tenants after presenting its plan to build a 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Avenue.

Approximate 40 people spoke at the hearing with very few complaints about the proposed 7-story building. Instead, the developer was subject to a barrage of criticism about it existing Phipps Gardens Apartment complex at 51-01 39th Ave., which many argued had fallen into disrepair and was poorly managed.

Phipps needs the Barnett Avenue site to be rezoned from a manufacturing use to residential in order for it to develop the new building. Many speakers said the city should block its rezoning application based on how it manages its existing 472-unit complex, which is located across the street from the planned site.

I live in the Phipps Garden Apartments,” said Mary Ann Joyce at the hearing, which was held via webex. “They have let the building become an eye sore…and I don’t know why we should reward these people by allowing them to build another building.”

Joyce said the garden areas have fallen into disrepair, the interior walls have been damaged by flooding and there is an extreme lack of communication between the property manager and tenants.

Many speakers criticized Phipps over its Gardens complex, citing garbage, mice and cockroach problems. Several people said the organization didn’t deserve to manage another building in the area.

“The biggest issue is trust…and there is little to no reason that they can be trusted with another building,” said one speaker.

Phipps Houses plans to develop this Barnett Avenue site (Photo: Queens Post)

Residents also criticized Phipps for its 11th place ranking in the The 2019 Worst Evictors list in New York City, which was based on data collected by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. Phipps evicted 71 tenants across its nearly 6,000-unit portfolio last year, according to the report.

The application by Phipps to rezone its 50-25 Barnett Ave. site comes four years after it abandoned a more ambitious rezoning plan for the site after facing fierce community opposition.

The plan in 2016 called for a 10-story structure with 208 units. The project was also 100 percent affordable but with income requirements set at higher Area Median Income (AMI) levels.

Four years ago, the plan was criticized for being too big, with the income levels too high. Many also expressed concern at the time that the project would cause parking problems for existing residents since the development is planned to go up on an empty lot that contains 223 parking spaces.

But hardly any one spoke about those issues Wednesday, with many complimenting Phipps for reducing the scale of the project to seven stories and lowering the income requirements for the affordable units.

In fact, Phipps, to some people’s liking, said that it was prepared to lower the income levels further upon community request.

*Excludes superintendent’s unit (Affordability Levels)

Evan Sweet, a Sunnyside resident, said the new plan showed that Phipps was dedicated to its mission of bringing quality affordable housing to Sunnyside and Woodside. He said he supports the plan and said that the development of affordable housing made much more sense than leaving the site as a parking lot.

Several speakers said that an affordable housing development was a better use of the site than a parking lot–and welcomed the concept.

However, just like four years ago, Phipps was criticized for the way it manages its existing Gardens complex.

One speaker said that nothing has changed in the past four years and was incredulous as to why Phipps would come back seeking a rezoning yet again without fixing its existing complex first.

The hearing Wednesday, organized by Community Board 2, was required as part of the rezoning application process—formally known as ULURP.

The process takes about seven months and Community Board 2 gets to weigh in on the rezoning application by providing an advisory opinion. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Dec. 3.

The plans will then go to the Queens Borough president’s office for another advisory opinion before the City Planning Commission and City Council vote on it.

The 2020 Proposal Presented by Phipps Houses (Photo: Phipps)

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who participated in the hearing, called on Phipps to explain what was behind the litany of complaints.

“Most of the comments haven’t been about the affordability [of the units] or the new building but about the existing Phipps Gardens Apartments and the maintenance issues,” he said.

Lisa Deller, Community Board 2 Chair, also asked Phipps to respond to these complaints.

“Forty people have testified tonight and the majority of those who spoke discussed maintenance issues,” Deller said.

The representatives of Phipps expressed surprise as to the onslaught of criticism.

Sarah Ellmore, director of planning for Phipps Houses, said that the organization had spent more than $3 million on improvements and repairs to the Gardens complex since 2017 years. The improvements/repairs, she said, included roof replacement, masonry work, garden upgrades, lobby painting and bicycle racks.

She also said that the organization did a survey of residents who live at the Phipps Gardens Apartments and found that 72 percent of the 179 tenants who responded said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience at the complex.

She said that 81 percent of the respondents also said that they would recommend the complex to a friend.

Another representative for Phipps said that demand for the apartments is high, and noted that 452 of the 472 units are either rent stabilized or rent controlled.

Michael Wadman, vice president for Phipps, was asked at the hearing whether the complaints were baseless.

He said he was surprised by what he had heard but noted that the number of tenants who spoke at the hearing only represented a small percentage of the 472 families that occupy the apartments.

“It doesn’t look to me like it’s rundown…like some of the people have described tonight,” Wadman said.

He said that there are always going to be people who are not happy because they had a bad experience or an issue that was not resolved in a manner to their liking.

“It is impossible to have 472 families who love their building all at the same time,” he said.

Phipps says it has spent more than $3 million on improvements/repairs to its Phipps Gardens Apartment complex since 2017. The repairs/improvements are listed above (Source: Phipps)

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17 Comments

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Disinformation watch

The organized hijacking of this meeting was the opening salvo in what appears to be a crude social media disinformation campaign by local conspiracy theory promoter “Small Town Confidential”. Vote YES before these extremists try again to poison the discussion over a perfectly reasonable development.

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Gardens Watcher

The residents are speaking their truth and Small Town Confidential is reporting the story, not making up a conspiracy. Don’t act like you’re the victim and were blindsided.

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Incorrect

Small town confidential is not even pretending to be a legitimate news org. They are an opinion outlet for people with a penchant for explaining things in sensational and often conspiratorial terms. I refer to a post about this last week on the woodside fb group. It was sheer fiction! In any case it’s moot as the board will approve this building!

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Anonymous

Phipps suddenly began cleaning and waxing hallways on a Sunday and cleaning the grounds all weekend. I knew that this must be for some type of walkthrough from CB2 and Councilman. Sure enough, guess who was here the next morning! Hallways haven’t been waxed in many, many months. They shined. Please do not be fooled, this was for an announced visit for their own purposes. We live under dirty conditions, as of last Friday. You should have come unannounced the day after the meeting and see what four years of efforts really was like. Please do not be fooled CB2 or Councilman and vote NO!

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Resident

I’ve lived in a Phipps apartment for over 20 years. I never saw this survey. I concur that management is unavailable. That is a reduction in services and should entitle us to a rent reduction.

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Jeremy

Shouldn’t an article about replacing a parking lot with an apartment building factor in climate change, the most important crisis facing humanity? Allowing this rezoning will produce immense benefits in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. This is a transit rich area and large apartment buildings are very energy efficient. Building this housing will lower CO2 emissions and help create a healthier environment for everyone. While some of the complaints of the tenants are understandable, some are based on the old age of the building they are in. We need more new affordable housing which won’t have the same maintenance issues of older buildings. We should also ask ourselves why current tenants in Phipps’ building across the street would stay if they thought the landlord was bad? I think part of the reason is that there is a lack of affordable housing in this neighborhood so they have few good alternative options. I don’t think anyone has made a clear argument as to how blocking this new apartment building would solve any of the problems the tenants mention.

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Long-lived Tenant

Phipps should not be rewarded with a zoning change for being a miserable landlord to 472 apartments filled with people who can’t get the attention they need to their apartments because Phipps constantly cuts the maintenance budget. They INTEND to have the property slide downhill. The writer above is correct. They are so short staffed the hallways haven’t been mopped, never mind waxed in several years. This time they just sealed the dirt in, too. No mopping proceeded the wax. My husband heard them and went out to see what was going on.

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Good neighboor

“Phipps” should never be allowed to build another building, they are not even able to manage their existing building that looks a disgrace to the same neighborhood.
I feel very sorry for those tenants that live in that complex and managed by vice president Michael Wadman. I would recommend him to spend some time in that complex and talk to their tenants what quility of life they have and what can be done better for them.

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Where's the bike racks?

I’m sorry, but the Phipps put a new roof on top of the old roof that had problems. I live in a top floor apartment and the ceilings in my apartment are cracking and falling down even after the repairs. This includes the ceilings in the hallway as well. Not to mention there are dead bugs in our stairwell for months on end that have not been cleaned up. I am also curious about the survey that was given, and where the new bicycle racks are.

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Mac

What type of person would rather look at and complain about dead bugs in their hall rather than sweeping them up and putting them in the garbage?

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Where's the bike racks

We have cleaned our floor before, am I supposed to clean the whole building? I’m making a point to the bigger picture of overall lack of maintenance in the Phipps.

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Gardens Watcher

What type of landlord doesn’t clean the hallways, the courtyards, etc?

Interesting that the problems are being addressed right before the walkthrough inspection by JVB. Must be photo op time!

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Gardens Watcher

Kudos to the Phipps residents who spoke out. Takes courage to criticize your landlord publicly or in a survey, especially if you’re in a rent controlled or rent stabilized unit.

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Anonymous

CB2, please vote NO on behalf of the people mostly affected by this proposal, who live in the current Phipps development, homeowners, and other apartment building within the surrounding blocks. It is overwhelmingly opposed to by the direct neighbors of this proposed project.

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