Oct. 8, 2014 By Christian Murray
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said today that he is firmly opposed to building over the Sunnyside Yards.
Van Bramer made the statement in response to Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley’s call last Thursday for a study to determine whether it would be feasible to build over a section of the yards, which consists of acres of land covered by railroad tracks.
Conley said at the monthly Community Board 2 meeting that the Sunnyside Yards could be used to build more affordable housing.
“We should look at it with the possibility of creating a community…with affordable housing, market rate housing and retail,” Conley said.
Conley called on the board to give him permission to send a letter to the Queens Borough President’s office requesting a study of the area. The board complied.
The letter, however, alarmed several people who fear over development—with some claiming that the infrastructure is overstretched as it is.
Van Bramer said the community is not calling for the development of the Sunnyside Yards. He said people are more concerned about school overcrowding, transportation issues and other problems that actually stem from development.
“My office is in the business of receiving hundreds of letters and speaking to people about important issues all the time,” Van Bramer said. “Not one person has come to me and said ‘you should deck over the Sunnyside Yards and build housing.”
Several Community Board 2 members said after last Thursday’s meeting that they were caught by surprise by Conley’s request.
“I’m opposed to the concept of decking [building] over the Sunnyside Yards,” Van Bramer said. “The idea gets floated whenever there is an economic boom…but I think it would be bad for the surrounding community.”
Van Bramer, as councilman, has a big role to play in terms of land use decisions such as these. All significant zoning changes go through the city council and it is typically the elected official in a given district that makes the call.
Van Bramer was unsure how the idea surfaced in the first place.
Conley said that the Sunnyside Yards—which go through Long Island City and Sunnyside–are owned by government agencies. Therefore, this provides the community with an opportunity to negotiate with developers as to the number of affordable units that could be built.
“Jackson Avenue and 21st Street would be our jumping off point,” Conley said, adding that the study would then look toward Thomson Avenue and Queens Plaza.
Van Bramer said that he too is in favor of affordable housing.
However, he said, “Density is appropriate in some places and not others. I, for one, believe Sunnyside and Astoria are great low-density neighborhoods that should remain so.”
Conley told the Daily News Tuesday that the Sunnyside Yards also divide the neighborhoods and indicated that the housing would draw them closer. “Right now you have this scar that runs down the community,” he told the News.
Van Bramer disagreed with this view. “I wouldn’t characterize these neighborhoods as having a scar running through them…and I don’t believe the neighborhoods are unreachable.”