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Phipps’ Rezoning Application for Sunnyside Complex Gets Community Board Approval

Rendering of the proposed development at 50-25 Barnett Avenue

Dec. 4, 2020 By Christian Murray

A proposal for a seven-story affordable housing complex in Sunnyside is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Community Board 2 voted 28 to 12 in favor of a rezoning application put forward by Phipps Houses, a non-profit developer that seeks to construct a seven-story, 167-unit building at 50-25 Barnett Ave.

The vote came after much debate and fierce criticism of Phipps, which was accused of allowing its Phipps Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue to fall into disrepair.

The board members had to decide whether Phipps’ questionable history as a property manager would disqualify it from developing a new building. Members welcomed a 100 percent affordable housing complex—but had to wrestle with the dozens of complaints lodged against the developer by existing Phipps tenants in coming to a decision.

“Personally, I want to make Phipps do better…but in good conscience I can’t see how I can say no to a brand new affordable housing project in this location,” said Lisa Deller, chairperson of Community Board 2, prior to the vote.

She said that the board has been advocating for affordable housing for many years and said that the Barnett Avenue location made sense. “If not here—then where?”

The board passed the vote in favor of the rezoning but it came with a plethora of conditions.

One of the conditions requires Phipps to conduct a series of repairs to the Gardens Apartment complex over the next six months. The required repairs were spelled out in a building improvement plan, with most having to be completed within 90 days.

The plan requires Phipps to hire a new porter to focus on trash collection; eliminate rodent and insect infestations; eliminate mold blooms throughout the property; repaint common areas where there is chipped paint; clean out dry wells; and adopt a landscaping plan.

The board also called on Phipps to hire an outside company to complete a tenant survey and make the results available for it to review. It also requires Phipps to conduct annual apartment inspections and to meet monthly with tenants.

The approval also came with the condition that Phipps lowers the income bands for the affordable units. The board requires Phipps to lower the top income band to 80 percent of the Area Media Income, which would equate to $90,960 for a family of four. The top band is currently set at 90 percent.

The income bands put forward by Phipps prior to the CB2 vote. The board requires Phipps to lower the top band to 80 percent. *Excludes superintendent’s unit

The conditions were imposed largely in response to feedback the board received at a public hearing last month. At the hearing, several tenants at Phipps Garden Apartments said the developer didn’t deserve the right to build another property in Sunnyside. Many cited mice and cockroach problems, garbage issues and a lack of response by management.

Deller said prior to the vote that the board received 46 letters opposed to the development, with 36 in support.

She said most of the complaints dealt with the condition of the Garden Apartments and came with photos of insect infestation, leaks, overflowing trash and other troubling issues.

Deller said that the board pledged to monitor Phipps’ building improvement plan closely in coming months. She said the rezoning process takes several months and there would be an opportunity to weigh in at future hearings if Phipps does not stick to its commitments.

The rezoning ultimately requires the approval of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in the City Council in order for it to go into effect.

Van Bramer issued a statement after the vote and said that he would make sure that Phipps holds up its end of the bargain. He said he appreciated how the board was able to craft a plan that would improve the conditions of the Garden Apartments complex if enacted..

“Making sure that Phipps follows through with their action plan to help tenants at the existing Phipps’ buildings will be key as this project winds it way to the city council for a final vote early next year,” Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer thanked the board for making a decision.

“I know it was not easy for many of them– but they voted their conscience,” he said. “The vote in favor of the project was decisive as was the board’s desire to see even deeper affordability–which I support.”

Overview of Phipps’ Improvement Plan (Source: Phipps)

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35 Comments

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The price is wrong

After feeling a strong sense of déjà vu from what seems like much more than half a decade ago, I was both shocked and amused to see this headline. It almost begs the unenviable rhetorical question of “what has changed in the last five years?” The more appropriate question, however, may be “what have the organizers been doing over the last five years?”

It is notable that the original war over this undesirable parking lot was the first time Jimmy’s politically active neighbors held their support hostage and threatened sabotage and rebellion if he didn’t join their cause. It worked, and so a formula was born: organize an astro-turf group, put out a petition, rally with untruths and conspiracy theories to rile up small base, overwhelm/undermine the board process to influence elected officials to block project.

What then went wrong here then? You simply can’t look at this abject failure without examining the shambolic “Queens Streets for All” debacle that irreparably damaged the reputation of the organizers and almost certainly doomed this slapdash campaign to quick and decisive failure. The board called their bluff, rendering their subversive tactics moot.

One must wonder whether the organizers thought the price of Queens Streets was worth it? More importantly, future organizers may also want to keep their distance from a group of people who are so organizationally incompetent that they can undermine any otherwise legitimate concerns. The price, as they say, is wrong.

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Homes for the homeless

Make one big homeless community and keep all homeless in the area and take care of them. Make all these homeless hotel real hotels again.

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Info is key

These are the corrupt people that listen to real estate developers rather than the Citizens:

Amparo Abel-Bey, Sunnyside
Czarinna Andres, Woodside – City Services & Public Safety
Anatole Ashraf, Sunnyside – Arts & Cultural Affairs
Diane Ballek, Maspeth – Treasurer Executive, Budget, City Services & Public Safety, Homeless Shelter Task Force, Sub-Committee for Kosciuszko Bridge
Thailia Batan, Sunnyside – Arts & Cultural Affairs, Land Use
Nicholas Berkowitz, Sunnyside
Sandra Bigitschke, Sunnyside – City Services & Public Safety, Health & Human Services
Bessie Cassaro, Woodside – Transportation
Tannia Chavez, Sunnyside
Osman Chowdhury, Sunnyside – Transportation
Stephen Cooper, Sunnyside – Arts & Cultural Affairs, Land Use
Warren Davis, Long Island City – City Services & Public Safety
Jacob DeGroot, Sunnyside – Transportation
Lisa Deller, Sunnyside – Community Board 2-Chairperson Executive, Budget, Land Use-Chair, Education Sub-Committee- Chair, all committees
Sally Frank, Long Island City – Homeless Shelter Task Force, Land Use
Morry Galonoy, Woodside
William Garrett, Long Island City – Arts & Cultural Affairs, Health & Human Services
Rosamond Gianutsos, Woodside – Health & Human Services
Kenneth Greenberg, Long Island City – Arts & Cultural Affairs-Chair, Budget, Land Use
Richard Gundlach, Woodside – Land Use
Benjamin Guttman, Long Island City – Arts & Cultural Affairs, Land Use
Christine Hunter, Sunnyside – Land Use
Mohammed Choudhury Jewel, Woodside – Health & Human Services
Badrun Khan, Sunnyside – Arts & Cultural Affairs
Jordan Levine, Long Island City – Homeless Shelter Task Force, Transportation
Sheila Lewandowski, Long Island City – 2nd Vice Chair Executive, Budget, Transportation-Chair
Dominic Lippolis, Sunnyside – Environment
Kristen McGowan, Sunnyside – Transportation
Taina McShane, Sunnyside – Health & Human Services
Thomas Mituzas, Long Island City – Environment, Homeless Shelter Task Force, Sub-Committee for Kosciuszko Bridge, Transportation,
Dorothy Morehead, Sunnyside – Budget, Environment-Chair
Patrick Murray, Sunnyside – City Services & Public Safety
Patrick O’Brien, Long Island City – 1st Vice Chair Executive, Budget, Executive, City Services & Public Safety – Chair, Homeless Shelter Task Force Committee-Chair, Land Use
Clara Oza, Sunnyside – City Services & Public Safety, Education Sub-Committee
Bianca Ozeri, Sunnyside
Elliot Park, Long Island City – Land Use
Steven Raga, Woodside – Environment, Transportation
Norberto Saldana, Woodside – Secretary Executive, Budget, City Services & Public Safety, Homeless Shelter Task Force
Regina Shanley, Sunnyside – City Services & Public Safety, Health & Human Services
Lauren Springer, Sunnyside – Education Sub-Committee, Environment, Land Use
Carol Terrano, Woodside – City Services & Public Safety, Health & Human Services
Mary Torres, Long Island City – Health & Human Services, Homeless Shelter Task Force, Transportation
Rebecca Trent, Long island City – City Services & Public Safety, Environment
Anthony Tudela, Woodside – Environment
John Vaichunas, Maspeth
Adrienne Verrilli, Long Island City – Health & Human Services
Julie Jaehee Won, Long Island City
Frank Wu, Long Island City

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Gardens Watcher

This is the entire board. It was not a unanimous decision.

Better have proof before you call somebody “Corrupt.”

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Say what!

Van Bramer says he is going to make sure Phillip’s hold up their end of the bargain, but isn’t he coming to the end of his time as councilman?

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Bob

There goes the neighborhood. Why don’t they develop Queens Blvd more or the industrial areas off the 33rd street 7 train station. Why Barnett. Dumb.

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gag

Great news. Housing is far to expensive, we need more affordable developments. I was worried the community board would oppose this.

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Concerned Citizen

Not here. Put all the affordable housing further out in queens or staten island where there is ACTUAL space

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Edd

It’s a very sad day for Sunnyside. This neighborhood is beautiful and we should try to maintain it’s beauty by building new infrastructure investing in our local public buildings. As well build new buildings however, it’s not meant to be should to a developer who has a long history of neglect and complaints. Affordable housing is needed but it shouldn’t be shoved down the community throat. Look into REBNY and how CB2 sold out! Those 28 who betrayed the community today shame!! REBNY is the real enemy.
Pat D. Thank you.

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Not my take

Pat D.,
Please stop personalizing this to the extent that people consider their neighbours, CB members, or elected officials for that matter, as betrayers of the neighborhood and part of a REBNY conspiracy. It’s disgusting radicalisation and has no place here. It’s also not the first time you’ve done this kind of anarchic organising. What you are doing here is dangerous and should not be taken any further. Please stop!
Thank you for understanding,

Your community

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Hopeless

How anyone thinks someone who actually said “we think we do a good job” is going to change its ways is beyond me. They think the unsanitary, unhealthy and unsightly conditions are just what their tenants should be living with, given the amount of rent they pay. Their strategy is to let it go to pot until someone takes them to court, as the Tenants Association has many times, then do as Trump does, stall, delay, deny, etc. until the tenants are dead. Those 28 people have been played like a Steinway Grand Piano and are too naive to know it. Pitiful.

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GC

Great for actual affordable housing. I wish they would consider getting rid of the PTACs though. Is the architect known?

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Anonymous

how much money did JVB get in his pockets for this — this is his last horray so it has to be a big one –

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Phipps resident

Glad to see this passed because I think the are desperately needs more affordable housing. And also very glad to see those clear conditions set on improving some of the conditions for those of us currently in the Phipps.

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Lou

They aren’t clear conditions. Nothing is in writing. It was a lot of talking heads making demands

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Gardens Watcher

Glad you feel you got what you wanted done for your building. Phipps certainly got what they wanted.

Thanks to the CB2 board members who stood up for the neighborhood and pushed for those concessions. Watching to see how this unfolds going forward.

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Donnie

Well done. Following the trump family playbook. Paying off enough people to get the votes to build this.

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Concerned Citizen

Progressive vision of equality is to make EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD bad…forget everyone who spent years working to buy a home in a safe neighborhood and escape a dangerous neighborhood.

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Joe

it’s a shame such a gigantic, out of scale building is going to end up happening in Sunnyside. I am not against new construction, but this is not right, not to mention aesthetically unappealing. They could have hired an architect.

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Are you familiar with Phipps Gardens?

You know, the 450+ unit development across the street?

Have you noticed any number of cookie cutter developments between Queens Blvd and Skillman, many of which, like Essex House, are larger than the proposed building? They render your argument useless, wouldn’t you say?

One must wonder what the arguments against those must have been like when they all went up within a decade in the 1930s. That building boom helped fuel a resurgence in the city in the 1940s.

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Lou

Are you familiar with the neighborhood at all! The Essex house is not larger than this. Nothing is currently
Over 6 stories

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gag

Right-wing nimbys will weaponize progressive talking points to concern troll good things from happening. These people don’t want more housing.

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Joe

Fair enough. But just because it has been done in the past doesn’t mean is right. I actually hope a new construction would be an opportunity for good architecture, but in this proposal, even the visual/rendering is very low quality, so that’s a bad start and a “hint” of the crappy construction to come.
I don’t see why the Community Board couldn’t raise the bar.

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Sam

The approval of the rezoning is not regarding the building, but of the “envelope” that the building would fit in. The city is not considering approval of the building but of the new zoning district. Unlike LPC districts, the zoning does not dictate the aesthetics of the building. This seems to go over most people’s head. The CPC is going to consider “is this piece of property currently underutilized and is it appropriate for medium-to-high density (R6A district proposed) residential use?” They are going to look at the surrounding area, and say “yeah, it is a modest rezoning that brings housing production to an area, and city, that needs it”. The CPC (appointed by City Hall, but also public advocate’s office and BP appointees) voted unanimously to approve in 2016. Seeing that the project is actually of less density (201 units in 2016 compared to 160-ish now), they are likely to approve again unanimously, because they see the objective benefits to the community/city-at-large. Unfortunately, because Van Bramer insisted the applicant withdraw in 2016, he basically caused the decrease of 30+ affordable units- what a shame. -Sunnysider who approves of this project.

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Bob

Who cares what the apartments on Roosevelt or queens Blvd look like? This is a special part of Queens and should be kept that way

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Joe

Correct.
Look at Sunnyside Gardens, you don’t need to make it fancy or spend a lot of many on construction/ design. I can be just good design, thought out, with the right design/developer team. This horrible rendering does not show any of that. But why do we need to tolerate and accept mediocrity? the community board really dropped here.

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Sam

The CB is not approving a building; they are approving the zoning district! You can paint your building from top to bottom pink, with or without the rezoning.

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Joe

Gag,
Out of scale as a whole horizontally. In architecture, something can be out of scale even if it’s one single floor but is too big for the site. Did you see how long that thing is and how it occupies the entire site? granted, this should be addressed by the city and the zoning, which obviously, it is not.

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