May 31, By Christian Murray
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has told the Sunnyside Post that he will block Phipps Houses’ proposal to build a 10-story residential development on Barnett Avenue, essentially killing the controversial development plan.
Van Bramer said Phipps’ proposal, which would bring 208 units—all affordable—to 50-25 Barnett Ave., was too big and out of scale with the neighborhood.
“Ten stories is out of character and inconsistent with the rest of the neighborhood,” Van Bramer said. “It’s across the street from the existing Phipps [Phipps Garden Apartments], which would be dwarfed by this.”
Phipps, a non-profit developer, is seeking a zoning change in order to build on the Barnett lot that is currently zoned for manufacturing. As part of the rezoning process, the City Council must approve the change.
Van Bramer essentially decides whether the council will vote it up or down, since it is council protocol for members to follow the recommendation of the local representative.
“They can’t build this building without my approval,” he said.
Van Bramer said that he has had “concerns” with the development from the get-go, but he is making his viewpoint known now since the community has had time to weigh in on the plan and members of Community Board 2’s Land Use committee expressly wanted to know his views.
The full Community Board is scheduled to vote on the development proposal on Thursday. However, the Board’s recommendation—albeit advisory—is largely irrelevant now that Van Bramer has said he will nix the project.
Van Bramer said he was “disappointed” by Phipps since they never appeared to listen to the concerns of the community.
In October when Phipps presented its proposal to the community at a town hall meeting at Phipps Garden Apartments, there was a great deal of opposition in terms of the size of the building, number of units, parking, traffic congestion on Barnett Avenue and even the income levels of what is deemed affordable.
“That town hall meeting did not go well for them,” Van Bramer said.
He said that Phipps then had time to regroup and take the community’s views into consideration.
However, Van Bramer said, Phipps came back in March and started the formal process of getting the lot rezoned and “to my knowledge did not change anything.”
“I asked Phipps at various stages to consider a smaller building and they refused to in any meaningful way,” arguing that it would not be financially feasible, Van Bramer said.
“They have not amended their plan in the face of overwhelming opposition [which] reflects a steamroller approach,” Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer said he also had concerns with the way Phipps maintains its existing Sunnyside complex.
“I always knew there were issues…because I know many people who live there,” he said. “But I was floored by how many people spoke out against Phipps as landlords.”
Van Bramer said the mayor’s office has reached out to him and recommended that he should support the development since it would be 100 percent affordable.
So too has Commissioner Vicki Been of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
“Just because you are progressive and believe in affordable housing doesn’t mean that every single affordable housing project is right for every single proposed location,” Van Bramer said.
“I can’t ignore 2,000-plus signature petitions, town halls where nearly everyone criticizes it and people who come up to me at events and say ‘I hope you oppose this,’” he added.