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Residents and Council Candidates Hold Rally in Opposition to Phipps’ Sunnyside Rezoning

L to R: Herbert Reynolds, Steven Raga, Brent O’Leary, Denise Keehan-Smith, Gerald Perrin, Manny Gomez, Stan Morse, Emily Sharpe all spoke at the rally and expressed their opposition to the rezoning (Photo: Patricia Dorfman)

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.

A rally was held Saturday on 51st Street, between 39th and Barnett Avenues, with attendees expressing their opposition to the rezoning of 50-25 Barnett Avenue (Photo: Patricia Dorfman)

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 

 

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28 Comments

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Vic

Maybe they should turn it into free public housing or a single person male homeless residency. That way everyone is happy and they would not be opposed to it.

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Thank you for making my voting choice easier

Thank you for documenting the candidates in attendance. I will not rank any of them as a result of their participation in this atrocious rally. Pandering to racists and “Svengali-like” conspiracy theorists is a huge no-no!

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Concerned Citizen

On that contrary, those standing there are intelligent enough to understand the long term risks and implications this abysmal project has on the quality of the neighborhood. They all have my vote 🙂

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Yuro

“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 am sure the commenters and those opposed to this development agree. You’re all being played for votes.

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Concerned Citizen

Free everything at the expense of the middle class and no wealth for anyone! If I wanted Fidel Castro style ideals in councilmen, half my family could have stayed in Cuba.

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Marie

I thought they had so much support from tenants living at the Garden Apartments Complex and only 30 people show up? I guess those tenants were all too busy working from home on a Saturday. Goes to show you that you can get people to sign almost anything and complain when they think they will get more things for free but no one cares enough to march against the rezoning and development. Its funny. Its like fix my toilet and I do not care what takes place outside of my building.

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Think About It

No, the rally was planned 24 hours before hand. Many people are sick with COVID. Some are away on Easter Break. Faulty assumptions lead to faulty conclusions.

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SuperWittySmitty

Many people are sick with COVID? I know there are some actual cases of the disease in our neighborhood but I can’t imagine there’s an actual correlation with the turnout for this rally. Idle speculations lead to genuine “fake news.”

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David

The homeless and poor in NYC can not be housed in hotels forever. Mixed neighborhoods are better for the majority of people than neighborhoods segregated by income/wealth level. Trust me the younger generation does not care. If you own a smaller home and rent in Western Queens get a security camera and window guards, add a dishwater and you should be fine.

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Concerned Citizen

No. Bad and good neighborhoods are a part of life. My family, all POC and immigrants came from nothing, did our time in an awful neighborhood until we could buy our first property in a good neighborhood. People are allowed to have nice things and keep those nice things untarnished. Look at middle village. A textbook example of an amazing neighborhood. Bob Holden takes steps to preserve it.

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Joe

The government has been putting in low income apartments in middle class neighborhoods all over town. There is no getting away from it. Just wait until those apartment developers want that government money. There will be low income housing coming to a place near you, too.

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Marcher

Oh, I’m all for “access” to “affordable housing.” But I want that “affordable housing” to be in your neighborhood, and nowhere near mine.

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Swatter

The people in the garden apartments live in affordable housing, the Gardens houses are all affordable housing. We tenants of Phipps live in deteriorated and deteriorating affordable houses with leaks, rats, mice, water bugs, cockroaches, and bedbugs galore. The hallways are embarrassing, the gardens are draining down the hill we are built on, the contractor they use is the cheapest and least skilled in the city. So, no, we are not against affordable housing. We are against crummy landlords who seek to avoid routine maintenance costs no matter the consequences. Try another tack.

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Check your facts

The entirety of Sunnyside Gardens, which Phipps is part of, was built as affordable housing. People in the houses themselves may feel rich, but believe me those rooms are tiny, no amenities, second-grade brick, postage stamp yards, etc. All the charm is in the gardens, which people in general take poor care of. So, please.

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anne

We all want those who prepare our take out and restaurant foods, cashiers at stores, etc. at the ready when we want something. But by damn, not living anywhere near us.

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Seen It All

No company has fallen further from previous heights than this one. And this property is proof.

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Optics

What percentage of the opposition is concerned mainly about parking? And as for the “it’s not affordable” argument, imagine the outcry if they wanted to put low-income housing in the neighborhood.

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Real

The issue is much larger than you may know. It is about reasoning all the property between Barnett and the LIRR. It’s about politicians and developers making a killing at the cost of a neighborhood.

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Bertha

Its about trying to stop low income earners from living in the neighborhood and all that is associated with it like higher crime rates. Other than developers and young high income liberal/socialists worker who move out when they are ready to settle or get tired of the city life few long-term middle class residents want to pay all these high taxes and maintenance costs to live next to low income housing.

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Property taxes are higher in suburbs

Bertha – What are the property tax on a typical lot in Sunnyside Gardens?

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That’s the whole problem

That’s the whole problem here. The people against this simply don’t want anything built, except maybe a parking lot, so their NIMBY arguments change to suit their position.

10 stories? Too tall.
6 stories? Not enough affordable housing.
100% affordable? Not affordable enough.
It’s actually affordable? Current residents are living in squalor. Their executives make too much money. It’ll kill small business. It’ll cause gentrification. It’s a “Trojan horse.” Etc etc.

When it gets down to such a farcical level you have to realise you’re dealing with people who are not coming to you in good faith and more than deserve to be ignored. If only they were more self aware?

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Optics

Extremely well put. It’s like they want the whole neighborhood preserved in amber just the way it is, only with more taxpayer-funded “free” parking.

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Sunnysider

Let’s be clear. They are advocating a policy of exclusion of poor neighbors.

They should all be ashamed of themselves – especially those who do so claiming to be in support of current tenants in Phipps. Shame on Emily Sharpe, Julie Won, Brent O’Leary, Steven Raga, Denise Keehan-Smith, Hallie Kim, Stan Morse, and anyone running for office stoking this racism.

Racist exclusion has no place in Sunnyside. That’s what they are advocating for, everything else is a mirage.

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Anon

Low income housing = increase in crime. Common sense dictates being opposed to it being developed anywhere near property that you own. Nothing racist about it. Simple enlightened self interest. Your home is your biggest investment. Why would anyone want to see it devalued for the purpose of advancing the careers of political hacks, or assuaging the misplaced guilt of fools? If you can’t afford to live in a geographic location go somewhere that you can afford to live. You are not entitled to an apartment with a short commute to Manhattan.

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