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Van Bramer Differs with Community Board Chair over the Development of Sunnyside Yards

Photo Courtesy: NYCEDC

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.

Van Bramer

Van Bramer (Photo Courtesy of the Office for Jimmy Van Bramer)

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.”



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House of O'Shea

Why does Conley always speak for sunnyside? He does not even live here. This is very troubling…

Dorothy Morehead

One clarification: the vote was for a study of the development of the rail yards, not the actual development. Even so, I voted against it. There is still a lot of development ahead for LIC, e.g., 42-26 28th Street–a vacant lot–just sold for a whopping $44 million. With that price tag, it is inevitable that either an office tower or an apartment building will be built on the site next to Queens Plaza. It can be developed as of right unless the developer wants some special consideration, such as extra height or bulk, In that case they have to file a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) application which comes to the community board for review, comment and vote before proceeding to the Borough President and City Planning Commission. Our infrastructure is already strained–schools overcrowded, subways packed, streets and bridges jammed, medical services strained. In order to maintain the quality of life of current residents, these services have to be improved before additional development takes place. Development of the rail yards would be extremely expensive and is not the type of project a developer would undertake without substantial tax abatements and it’s highly unlikely that any project would include a significant amount of open space.

Celtic George

Actually, this isn’t the first time a plan like this has been proposed. I have a development booklet from the ’80s or early ’90s with quite a detailed layout for building over Sunnyside Yards. It’s very interesting but I’m not really sure it’s practical. I’m bet the cost of Hudson Yards is incredibly high, but at least that has a view! I couldn’t imagine the expense of decking over our yards.

Anonymous visitor

Unfortunately the developers will court politicians and investors with one glossy brochure after another for years on end until someone bites, then they will do exactly what they want and say, “Sorry, we couldn’t afford all the public amenities we promised you.”

Look at all the crummy uninhabitable “public plazas” in Manhattan that developers were supposed to provide for the community in order to build higher than the zoning called for. I work in one residential building that has such a “plaza” the put spikes on the low walls so you can’t relax by sitting on them, purposely let bushes grow way beyond the appropriate size so no one can actually tell there is a place to go behind them, cut one in half with a ramp only residents can use after the room was included in the public area, and they send a doorman to shoo you away if you don’t live there and spend more than a few minutes standing around. Developers are expert liars.

Mary Caulfield

Thank you, Mr. Van Bramer for telling the truth on this one. My family has lived here since 1928 and among us all no one recalls wishing for the rail yards to be decked over. Soundproofing and landscaping would be nice, but not more housing. If they do that section of the rail yards, they will do all of the rail yards eventually.

Anonymous visitor

To Mr. Conley I say, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!” None of what has been done to this community has been good for the people who actually live here. It is good for the people you want to live here, people with more money who don’t give two hoots for the people they are displacing. Think Native Americans vs. European settlers. I can see why back in the day they were always knifing and shooting each other. It is down right rude to move to a place and tell the people there before you to go away.

Dennis Farley

If there is one thing “Sunnyside” doesn’t need it is “Decking” over “Sunnyside Yards” and a “SkyRise Apartment Complex”.
A “Greenway” perhaps, or even a “BMX” Course for the children, like the very successful one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn across from the old “Domino Sugar” facility, might be a useful “Community Oriented” project, but yet another “Feast for Developers” would be detrimental to the “Quality of Life” for Sunnysiders. I’m totally in agreement with Councilmember Van Bramer regarding this matter. I can’t imagine what Joseph Conley could be thinking, is he that “Out of touch” with this Community?

Mike Novak

What would serve the Community the best?
A greenspace park with separate biking and running paths, a bandshell and gardens.
“Affordable Housing”? Give me a break. Just look at Bloomie’s Building Buddy, Bruce Ratner…he displaced thousands, and has reneged to build affordable housing at Barclay’s Center. How about the developers who have the “Second Class Citizen” entrances to their luxe buildings with a few affordable units tucked in the back? Does anyone here feel second class?
Next you will hear the cry of “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” don’t be fooled. Ratner promised Union Jobs and when the scabs showed up, he blamed the subcontractors.
Then comes “Your property values will increase!” thats code for YOUR TAXES WILL GO UP.
Seems like its time for a re-boot of the Community Board.
A clean sweep of those who voted for this abomination.
A clean sweep of those who are supposed to listen to the PEOPLE and not the DEVELOPERS.

Anonymous visitor

Joe, thanks for all the good work. Now move on. Even George Washington stepped down.

Anonymous visitor

I also think the stadium would be great there but am puzzled that you’re not just saying “PARKING PARKING PARKING” like usual. Let’s go NYCFC!


After building the stadium, then turn the fdny proposal place on 43rd into a PARKING garage for thy community 🙂

Anonymous visitor

I agree that we do not need another stack of buildings built. What I would like to see proposed is a park with grass and walking paths. That is something I would imagine the neighborhoods would welcome.


And who would pay for it? Someone’s got to pay for those things. The Highline is paid for by all the developments that were able to be built on it.


Give me a brake. How STUPID does conley think we are ? He just came up with this idea on his own? We have Plenty of housing without developing the Sunnyside yards. It’s pretty obvious to this reader that a developer is involved in this “deal”. I applaud Jimmy VanBremer for opposing this idea. We don’t need more housing. We NEED more “local” schools, clean streets, more volunteers and community involvement. It’s time to get rid of the conleys of the world and replace them with people who “actually” listen to the needs of the community that they are supposed to serve. Instead of just serving themselves.

C Glackin

I worked in that area. Wasn’t it declared a superfund sight?
I don’t believe there will be “affordable housing” anyway. It is a handy catch phrase of real estate developers as is “senior housing.”


This story again highlights the disconnect between the officers of CB 2 and area residents. Coming on the heels of the CB 2’s misguided approval of the Fire Dept’s proposed garage on 43rd Street at the urging of the Board Chairman, which obviously would have negatively affected the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhood, it’s time to revisit term limits for Community Board members and officers. A systematic, periodic change in Board members and officers will provide a better link to present day thinking on current issues impacting the community. Term limits would improve Board decision-making by ending the incumbent group mindset that if the Chairman says we should vote Yes, then the Board will vote Yes, regardless of what a member knows or doesn’t know about the issue. As reflected in the absence of any community interest in a housing development over the rail yards among the many issues handled by Councilmember Van Bramer’s office, CB 2 should not be spending its time on a project that is the furthest thing on any one’s mind.

The Queen's Taster

It would be feasible to study mr conley and find out who is pulling the strings on this puppet.

Anonymous visitor

Extracting those strings would take major surgery and leave him with nothing but bones inside an expensive–puppet master-paid for–suit.


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