March 29, 2021 By Christina Santucci
More than 60 Sunnyside residents—along with four candidates running for elected office–rallied against Phipps Houses’ Barnett Avenue rezoning plan Saturday afternoon, just days after the proposal was given the green light by the City Council.
The attendees, who came together on 51st Street near Barnett Avenue, said that they would be calling on the mayor to block the rezoning, which the council voted unanimously to approve Thursday.
The approval of the rezoning now makes way for a seven-story, 167-unit affordable housing complex to be built at 50-25 Barnett Ave., on a site that is currently a parking lot. The vote last week means the development can definitely move forward.
Brent O’Leary, a candidate for the 26th Council District, said the rally was well attended, with many attendees coming from the Phipps Garden Apartments complex on 39th Avenue, which is adjacent to the proposed building.
He said the rally was put together in less than 24 hours and said that the turnout was good considering.
“The proposal was rejected by the neighborhood four years ago,” O’Leary told the Queens Post, referring to a previous rezoning application Phipps Houses put forward to develop the site.
“The only thing that has changed is the political winds. We need elected officials who are interested in Sunnyside’s interests not special interests,” O’Leary said.
The opponents said the plan would displace local businesses—most notably Steve Madden, which is located on Barnett Avenue and has 400 employees. They also said that Phipps had not upgraded its 472-unit Phipps Garden Apartments complex–a promise it made to officials as a condition of the rezoning.
“How can this landlord be allowed to get the favor of rezoning when the non-profit Phipps Houses cannot manage their building?” asked Margaret Perrin, a longtime resident of Phipps Garden Apartments.
The critics of the rezoning have called Phipps a bad landlord, and said the conditions at the Phipps Garden Apartments should have prevented the rezoning from being approved.
“We are angry no one is listening to Phipps residents or us,” Deborah Farley, a lifelong Sunnyside resident and one of the rally’s organizers, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Phipps said earlier this month that it had upgraded the apartments in accordance with a plan put forward by Community Board 2.
Several District 26 council candidates – Denise Keehan-Smith, Brent O’Leary, Steven Raga and Emily Sharpe – were in attendance. They are all vying for the seat currently held by Jimmy Van Bramer, who backed the Phipps plan. Stan Morse, who is running for Queens Borough president, was also in attendance.
Those opposed to Phipps Houses’ plan have also argued that the complex would gentrify the neighborhood and wanted units in the project to be priced more affordably than what is currently planned.
“I just was really disappointed,” Sharpe said, saying that the income requirements to qualify for the units are too high. She argues that the units are not truly affordable, saying that people who are minimum wage earners would not make enough money to qualify.
Meanwhile, Gerald Perrin, 86, who has lived at Phipps Houses his entire life criticized the rezoning process.
“The whole process was a disgrace, really,” Perrin told the Queens Post Monday. “It was hurried. It was sped through. It was inadequate to let the tenants and general public into that process.”
Perrin said that had the conditions of the Phipps Garden Apartments complex been more widely known, the rezoning plan may have been rejected by the community board and elected officials.
However, supporters of the rezoning say the affordable housing will go to low income earners and noted that it was approved by Community Board 2, which had all the relevant facts.
Before the Council vote Thursday, Jimmy Van Bramer spoke in favor of the plan. “The project before us today is 100 percent affordable and vastly improved from the one I rejected four years ago,” he said.
Patricia Dorfman, an outspoken critic of the plan and a rally organizer, was particularly perturbed by the rezoning.
“Jimmy and Lisa Deller, Chair of Community Board 2, are serving us this Trojan Horse of a rezoning–all in a moral taco, that everyone who has lived in Queens more than 10 years can see through,” Dorfman said in a statement.
“This was rigged and rushed, and COVID online hearings were used to suppress public opinion,” Dorfman added. “In the actual hearing 36 out of 40 speaking up for the public were opposed.”
The estimated number of attendees has been updated