Aug. 26, 2015 By Christian Murray
The developer that plans to construct a 10-story, 220-unit residential building on Barnett Avenue (near 52nd Street) is about to face some heavy resistance from Sunnyside residents who are dead-set against the project.
Phipps Houses, which announced its plan to develop the site at Community Board 2’s Land Use meeting in June, said that it would be seeking a zoning change in order to build the apartment complex on the site, which is currently zoned for manufacturing.
The site, which is next to the Phipps Garden Apartments, is currently used as a parking lot by local businesses and residents, and has about 225 spaces.
All 220-units would be classified as “affordable.” More than half would be two or three bedrooms. Only 5% of the units would be studio apartments.
Since the Land Use meeting, many residents have come together and joined forces with the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, a group dedicated to the preservation of the district, in opposition to the developer’s plan.
They have put together a petition calling on Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Community Board 2 to block the plan. The group has already gathered about 500 signatures on paper—going door-to-door– and has launched an online campaign via change.org, which in two days has generated 130 signatures. (click for petition)
In order for the development to proceed, Phipps will have to go through what’s known as the ULURP process to get the lot rezoned. While Community Board 2 gets to weigh in on the plan during that process, its decision as to whether the site should be rezoned is not binding.
However, the plan would need the approval of the City Council to go into effect. If Van Bramer, the majority leader, were to come out against the development it would be thwarted.
“This [movement] began as something very organic,” said Herbert Reynolds, the president of the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance. However, he said it has generated a groundswell of support and people are united against the plan.
The group’s campaign, called “Stop The Construction of 10 Story Residential Building in Sunnyside,” claims that the Sunnyside and Woodside neighborhoods are already developed and congested to their limits.
”Phipps Houses, once a model landlord and neighborhood, has shocked our close community with its desire for a major zoning change and a 10 story apartment building on Barnett Avenue,” reads the petition.
“The proposed new building would tower at least twice the height of the tallest adjacent buildings, and bring more crowding and congestion of every kind, including increased traffic and parking woes, threats to safety and quiet.”
Reynolds said that residents are concerned since the City’s current infrastructure is struggling to meet the needs of the existing population. He said that the subway is over loaded, local schools are overcrowded and then there is the loss of 225 much-needed parking spaces.
The parking spaces, he said, are needed, since the residents at the 470-unit Phipps Gardens Apartments do not have a parking lot. Additionally, the historic district does not permit people to have driveways so Sunnyside Gardens residents are required to park on the street or elsewhere.
Reynolds said that the group believes that its opposition will be taken in consideration and that their views will be represented fairly in the process.
“We are confident that we have a councilman that looks out for the best interest of his constituents and that is why we are doing this,” Reynolds said.
The site had been identified by former Community Board 2 Chair Joe Conley to be reviewed by city planning for affordable housing in a letter he wrote to New York City Planning Commissioner in April 2014 (see letter).
Michael Wadman, vice president of Phipps Houses, said at the June meeting that 20% of the units would be for tenants who earn 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI), 30% for those who earn 100% of AMI and the remaining 50% for those who earn up to 130% of AMI.
“We think this is the right kind of affordability for this neighborhood and in general,” Wadman said at the time.
Phipps could not be reached for comment for this story.
Van Bramer, who lives in Sunnyside Gardens, said that he is keeping a close eye on the plans and shares some of the same concerns as residents and will review the application carefully.
“I’m keenly aware of the quality of life issues—such as the shortage of parking and the scale of the proposal,” he said. “The height is not consistent with the community and parking is a big issue.”
He said that while he supports affordable housing, “a project has to be appropriate and we are building plenty of it going forward.”