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Sunnyside Residents Speak Out Against Proposed 10-story Building at Community Board Meeting

Photo of rendering

Photo of rendering

Oct. 6, 2015 By Christian Murray

Several residents attended Community Board 2’s monthly meeting Thursday to speak in opposition to a 10-story development that has been proposed to go up on Barnett Avenue between 50th and 52nd Streets.

The plans, which were presented by non-profit developer Phipps Housing at a community board committee meeting in June (click for article), would transform a 215-space parking lot into a 10 story, 220-unit affordable housing complex. The development, which would be located on a site currently zoned for manufacturing, would include a pre-K and would be set back from the road.

The building would include as many as 199 parking spaces, although most would be absorbed by the new residents. Some may be available for other Sunnyside residents.

Phipps needs to get the site rezoned for the development to move forward, which requires going through the URULP process. That process requires the plans to be certified by city planning—and then reviewed by the community board, Queens Borough president’s office, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

The community board and the Queens Borough president’s viewpoints are not binding on whether the rezoning is approved. However, the city council, which typically adheres to the recommendation of the local council member (Jimmy Van Bramer, in this case), must vote in favor of the rezoning before it goes into effect.

The residents who spoke at the meeting said that they opposed the zoning change for several reasons, including the size of the proposed structure. They argued that the 10-story, 220-unit building would be out of character with the existing buildings in the neighborhood.

Armed with two petitions totaling more than 1,400 signatures, they argued the development would cause problems for current residents, since many Sunnysiders park in the 215-space lot.

The parking lot is in demand, they argued, since the existing 472-unit Phipps Garden Apartments complex—which is adjacent to the planned development site—was not built with off-street parking. Furthermore, people who live in the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District are not permitted to have driveways and also park on the street.

Some argued that Barnett Avenue was never designed to handle such development and expressed concerns about increased traffic; others claimed Sunnyside’s infrastructure couldn’t handle it—from schools to public transport; while others feared the development would have a detrimental effect on local businesses since Steve Madden, headquartered nearby, would leave.

One of the residents read out a letter on behalf of Steve Madden, which employs more than 500 people at its 52-16 Barnett Avenue headquarters, and rents parking spaces at the proposed development site for its employees.

Existing lot

Existing lot

“Development of this site will undoubtedly cause our corporate offices and warehouse to require relocation…,” according to the letter.

“Currently our corporate and commuting employees’ vehicles occupy approximately 125 of the spaces in the Barnett Avenue parking lot. If our employees cannot have guaranteed daily parking, our company operation will be adversely affected.”

The letter goes on to say that “our staff, of nearly 500, has meals delivered daily from area restaurants, in addition to dining at nearby establishments…,” adding that “I can assure you Woodside area businesses and restaurants will suffer.”

However, Stephen Cooper, first vice president of Community Board 2, said, “it is our duty as a community board not to accept one group’s no, no, no not in my back yard—nor to see someone do what they want.”

”There are certain rights the property owner has and certain rights the community has—it is our job to look at it and evaluate it,” Cooper said.

Gerald Perrin, co-president of Phipps Garden Apartments Tenants Association, came to the meeting with 300 signatures he had gathered from tenants at the complex.

“I and many of the tenants of our complex think this is a terrible idea,” he said, adding that “the site is currently zoned for manufacturing since it abuts the noisy, dirty Amtrac and LIRR lines.“ He said the site was not appropriate for housing.

Perrin said he was also concerned that the development would increase traffic on 39th Avenue.

Christina McKay echoed comments that Pat O’Brien, Community Board 2 chair, said to the New York Times about the mega development that is taking place in Queens Plaza, arguing that these issues are spilling over to Sunnyside.

O’Brien, in the Times piece, expressed concerns about the lack of amenities such as health care providers, schools and grocery stores in Queens Plaza if development continued unabated. She quoted him: “’We’re already trying to fit 10 pounds into a five-pound bag. Unless we re-engineer the bag, it is going to be hard to fit any more people.’”

McKay then asked: “Why do we have to take more people and stuff them in Sunnyside?”

Herb Reynolds, president of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, said he was an advocate for affordable housing, just not on that site.

He said that in the 30 years he has lived in the neighborhood he has never seen such “unanimity as the opposition to this Phipps proposal.” He added that his group had gathered 1,100 signatures [excluding the 300 at Phipps] and the number is climbing.

While the development has not been certified, Rayna Erlich said that it was important that the community to get in front of the issue. “The scale is out of touch with the urban fabric of the neighborhood,” she said.

But Lisa Deller, chair of the Land Use Committee, said that “I have lived in Sunnyside all of my life and I couldn’t afford to buy a house in Sunnyside now.”

“I think it is an opportunity for some people to get in to the neighborhood who might not be able to buy a house,” Deller said, adding, “that this is a reason to listen and then try to negotiate with the developers as to what would be an optimal building for us.”

Meanwhile, Joe Conley, who was appointed as a public member of the Land Use Committee on April 10, told the board and attendees that “there was a lot of misinformation out there” and referred to this publication.

He said that the committee did push back on some of the issues regarding the Phipps development—particularly its questionable management of its current 432 unit structure.

To listen to the full recording of the Phipps presentation to Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee—dated June 24—click here or on the box below.

Please Note: The Sunnyside Post as a policy does not publish CB2 recordings. However, given the sensitivity of the issue and to ensure that the public has all the facts, it was felt it was in the best interest of the public to do so.

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Click for Comments 
king henrik

I told you last time build a jail so the people who live on the south side dont have to travel to rikers island to visit their drug dealer relatives


Great info. JOR. Thanks. Back in the day profits from that endowment went toward keeping the property in good shape and rents low. Now they scrape every possible penny out of it, no matter what conditions result. The maintenance spend all their time cleaning up floods from the rotten plumbing. The painters spend a lot of their time patching and repainting. The porters spend all day with recycling. There are no gardeners. There is no office staff. In August one building had broken glass on the indoor steps for a week because no one filled in for the regular porter while he was on vacation. Garbage piles up and blows into the back gardens on the weekends. Mud washes across the walkways. Building doors don’t close properly. Mice, roaches and bedbugs flourish everywhere. And it was once a prize winning property. The current management knows how to work the upper levels of real estate management–donate, shake hands, be charming, stay out of the papers–but they know nothing whatsoever about actual real estate. Buildings, electricity, water, bricks, walkways, tress, grass , plants and most especially people, are way, way beyond their capacity. They don’t like dealing with real life, only numbers. They should be in the stock market, not real estate.


Did you notice that Chair received about $750,000 in total compensation two years ago and the second in command around $300,000 for their services for this non-profit, tax exempt organization?

Anonymous visitor

I didn’t. I will have to read more closely. What, exactly, are we reading? And who is the chair? The vice chair?

Barnett Babe

Oh, shit. I didn’t know that. But nonetheless, JVB will be persona non grata in this end of the neighborhood if that building goes up. The outlet from Barnett Avenue to Woodside Avenue is crooked, narrow and choked with traffic night and day as it is. Two hundred apartments will generate so much more traffic it will be one big parking lot.

Rocky Balboa

And yet this remain an areas that is not well lit at night (I have friends who were mugged).


article is to dispute charge newsblog has ben unfair and it doesn’t sound like it. i listened to whole thing over one hr .Board sounds pro. andJoS. Conley offers how to get money to pay for the new street. he askk about more parcels of land available/?

Rocky Balboa

People are making good points. We don’t have the infrastructure for this kind of building and the empty stores are a disgrace. Our schools are overcrowded and service on the 7 line remains a disaster. Jimmy Van Bramer cares mostly about his own street and that is it. I read Joe Conley’s name: it means run the other way!


10 stories!!?? what are you building a damn cat shelter?? make a statement, go for at least 80!!! I can sue and have them reroute the flights from Laguardia over Astoria if its an issue. Think big Queens, BIG!!!

Sunnyside Local

I’ve been looking to open a quality used bookstore that also sells the New York Times Best Seller List, graphic novels and newspapers from around the world for a few years now. Not going to happen. The commercial rents are through the roof. A restaurant can barely make the monthly nut, let alone a used book store.


If it is so important to Steve Madden why didn’t he show up himself instead of having someone read statement from him. who really cares about his employees and why should they be renting the majority of the parking spots. They should be offered to people who LIVE in the area. Let his employees take public transportation like the rest of us. I am not saying they should be allowed to build that big but that is moronic. Queens does not have the space and the luxury for most employers to give there employees parking spots


That section of Barnett Avenue is hard to get to without a car. It stayed quiet and relatively undeveloped for so long because it is badly served by public transportation. It is at least six long blocks from the Northern Blvd trains and buses. It is at least a 15 minute walk to either 61st or 52nd on the 7 line.


It’s a 12-minute walk to the 47th St. entrance to the 7 and about the same distance to the M/R on Northern Blvd. Maybe not so easy if you’re disabled but most people in this country could do with at least a little walking.

Anonymous visitor

It is a long walk for many people. It is a long way to carry things home from the stores. People in this part of Queens use cars because they make life much easier. It won’t be any different for people moving into new buildings.


Trainz, it’s clear you’ve not only drunk the Koolaid, you’ve become a professional promoter! God bless. There are other experiences and points of view, in case you were wondering, and they are all as valid as yours.

Michael Kilpatrick

THIS is not what our community needs!! The scale of the project is way to big for that site and the immediate area around it!

Anonymous visitor

That piece of property is at least 8 to 10 blocks from the nearest subway station. The only public transportation within a block or two is the Steinway bus on 48th Street. It is quicker to walk up to the number 7 than wait for that. Therefore, everyone moving in has to be young and completely fit or we will have several hundred more cars to park in an area that is already too full. I came home at 9:30 from a family birthday in Nassau County last night and looked for parking for 30 minutes before I parked 7 blocks away.


Maybe Steve Madden can actually start making comfortable shoes so their employees can buy them (30% employee discount of course) since they will need to start hoofing it from the subways once they lose these luxury parking spaces.

Anonymous visitor

Phipps does a terrible job with the property they already own in Sunnyside. They have no on sight manager and it shows. The organization as a whole no longer knows how to build communities for working people, they know how to work their property to make money out of people.


If it is so terrible living there then why do you stay??

I am so sick of people whining about how terrible management is yet they rent there year after year after year…………………….


Bring this over to the south side of the blvd, I’m all for development in Sunnyside, but lets not totally ruin Sunnyside Gardens. The south side could use some modern injection.

Suunyside Local

The residents of Sunnyside Gardens are a bunch of HYPOCRITES. When they want to build huge buildings adjacent to Queens Boulevard you are all okay with that. But when it’s adjacent to The Gardens you start whining like school children. You want to bitch about something, bitch about the empty storefronts and vacant buildings that are a blight for the entire neighborhood. That’s known as community spirit. Try it.

Anonymous visitor

I don’t like any of the development. To me, it is the destruction of highly successful neighborhood just so someone who doesn’t live here can make money.


I beg you, Jimmy Van Bramer, to oppose this. This will ruin the historic district and it will define your legacy.


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