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A $19 Billion Dollar Proposal To Build Over Queens’ Sunnyside Yards Ignites Debate

Sunnyside Yards would be six times the size of Hudson Yards and the largest new development in NYC in two decades.

By Jeff Vasishta February 8, 2017

Watch out, Hudson Yards, there could be a new sheriff in town. Well, not exactly in town—but just across the East River in Sunnyside, Queens. A feasibility study released by the city’s Economic Development Corporation on Monday resurrects a century-old proposal to deck over existing rail lines. This massive development would be six times the size of Hudson Yards and cost between $16 and 19 billion to construct.

As of yet, there is nothing official—just a lengthy report and a lot of possibilities. Sunnyside Yards is one of the busiest rail yards in the city. Amtrak and MTA are running rail lines and layup trains in the yard, and New Jersey Transit stores trains there between morning and evening rush hours. In fact, the western part of the yard is too busy to build on. In the proposal, the city would deck over 80 to 85 percent (150 acres) of the 180-acre area.

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Here are the three scenarios offered in the proposal

Housing heavy

Private developers could build 18,000 to 24,000 units, of which 5,400 to 7,200 would be affordable. There will also be 700,000 to 900,000 square feet of retail space, 13 to 19 schools, and up to 3,300 parking spots. It also has the most open public space—52 acres.

Office/retail heavy

There will still be housing—but also massive amounts of retail (700,000 square feet) and office space (3.5 to 4.8 million square feet,) as well as 4,500 parking spots.

Mixed Use—Hotel & Retail heavy

There will be no office space but as much as 1.5 million square feet of “mixed-use” and 5,300 parking spots.

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The main impediment is, of course, the cost. It’s estimated, though, that if developed, the project could generate $934 million in property taxes over the next 40 years. This number would exceed the cost of initial investment, according to the report. In the short term, the project would mean a massive hit for the city, leaving them with a gaping hole to the tune of $3 billion dollars.

Despite this, Major de Blasio was in bullish mood about the idea, when he first announcing a plan to deck over the yards during his State of the City address in early 2015. In what has become a pattern, however, Governor Cuomo blasted the concept, saying that the yard was an important piece of transportation infrastructure and “it is not available for any other use in the near term.”

Wendy Pollack of the Regional Plan Association tried to trike an equanimous tone while being generally upbeat:

“While there certainly are a lot of operational and financial challenges to developing Sunnyside Yards, there also are a lot of good reasons for exploring the possibilities,”  she said. “No other site in the city offers the same combination of proximity to transit and the central business district and very substantial acreage that could be developed. This is a large, long-term project, one that we can assume will stretch well beyond one or two political cycles.”

Last year, Sunnyside was the only Queens neighborhood to make the “gentrifying” list in a report released by NYU’s Furman Center. It ranked 11th out of the 15 neighborhoods on the list. Sunnyside and Woodside also encompass the dramatically growing Long Island City. The “non-family” residents—usually singles or couples without children—are moving in at astounding pace—40.9 percent in 2000 compared to 48.5 in 2014. College grads in the neighborhood grew by nearly 16 percentage points during that time, with more than 40 percent of residents holding degrees in 2014, the report found.

Ironically, Hudson Yards currently connects to Sunnyside via the increasingly crowded the 7 Train. Its route has been the stuff of much debate. It caused Queens rents to increase and older residents, as the data shows, have given way to younger, upwardly mobile newcomers. The Queens Anti-Gentrification Project has taken aim at the trend.

“The hardworking people who made these neighborhoods…are now being forced out because of higher rents,” Dan Raymond, co founder of the activist group said on the group’s web site. “The small immigrant businesses are disappearing and the big stores are moving in. We all see it.”

They wouldn’t have seen anything, should the Sunnyside Yard proposal come to fruition.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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