Sept. 17, 2019. By Shane O’Brien
Dozens of protesters disrupted the city’s Sunnyside Yard public meeting Monday night that took place at Aviation High School in Long Island City.
The meeting, organized by the Economic Development Corp., descended into chaos when about 80 protesters from a number of different organizations staged an alternative public meeting in the cafeteria of the high school.
Members of Stop Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) Bullies, Queens Neighborhood United, Queens anti-gentrification Project and Centro Corona all took part in the protest.
The protest took place while the EDC tried to conduct the meeting that essentially consisted of two segments– an exhibition of design concepts in the school’s cafeteria and an hour-long Q and A in the teacher’s lounge.
The raucous protesters voiced their discontent by holding a community teach-in in the cafeteria while the Q and A session was taking place. The protest lasted for roughly an hour.
Several speakers climbed onto the cafeteria tables and addressed the watching crowd. One speaker claimed that the EDC community meetings “are fake,” while a number of speakers said that Sunnyside Yard would become just another Hudson Yards.
The group argued that the EDC overestimated the potential revenue of the Hudson Yards site in West Manhattan, leaving the city in huge debt as a result.
Tom Angotti and James DeFilippis, both professors in urban planning, lectured the crowd on the potential adverse effects of the Sunnyside Yard project.
“When the EDC tell us that Sunnyside Yard is planned for 100 years, I have to laugh because nothing in New York City is planned beyond two years. It’s a lie,” Angotti said.
The protest group loudly chanted a number of phrases and made it almost impossible for EDC employees to put a stop to the protest. The group alleged that the EDC is in the pocket of developers and that it panders to the wealthy in New York.
The group regularly shouted, “Don’t build a city for the rich, improve the city that exists.”
Adam Grossman Meagher, Director of Sunnyside Yard, attempted to quash the protest and stood on a table himself as he tried to restore calm, but he was drowned out by loud chants of “let them speak” and he gave up and retreated to the Q and A meeting in the teacher’s lounge.
The protest group eventually followed him to the teacher’s lounge and attempted to gain entry to the Q and A. However, the door was locked which prompted incessant chants of “let us in.”
Ray Rogers, founder of the Campaign to Stop REBNY Bullies said that the EDC “is a cesspool of corruption.
“They follow the policies that adhere to the Real Estate Board of New York,” Rogers said. “It causes so much displacement and shutting down of small businesses throughout the city.”
Rogers said that the EDC had been offering the community lip service about the Sunnyside Yard master plan and that Monday’s protest was about putting pressure on them to answer questions and make real change.
He also criticized the EDC for holding Monday night’s Q and A in a small and crowded room which made it difficult for large numbers of people to attend. The meeting also started at 5 p.m.
Grossman Meagher rejected the premise of the group’s protests and said that the EDC always tried to hire developers who could get the city the best deal. He also rejected any comparisons between the development at Hudson Yards and Sunnyside Yard.
“This is very different to Hudson Yards. This is western Queens and western Queens is not like the west side of Manhattan. It has different needs, it has different people, it has a different history and a different scale,” Grossman Meagher said.
“Hudson Yards happened at a different moment in time with a different set of concerns that were driving us. Hudson Yards happened during an Olympic bid and when millions of square feet of office space were lost downtown. It was a very different set of objectives.”
Grossman Meagher said that the city would be holding a fourth public meeting on the Sunnyside Yard master plan before the end of the year.
Rogers said that many of Monday night’s protesters would be looking to attend.
— Arthur Tarley (@arthurtarley) September 16, 2019