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City Plans 11,000 Affordable Units at Sunnyside Yards Despite Gov Saying No

By Jeanmarie Evelly | February 3, 2015 1:52pm | Updated on February 3, 2015 6:00pm
 The city is planning to develop thousands of units of affordable housing at Sunnyside Yards, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
The city is planning to develop thousands of units of affordable housing at Sunnyside Yards, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

SUNNYSIDE — The city wants to develop more than 11,000 units of affordable housing at Sunnyside Yards, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday, despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo's attempt to throw water on the plan.

In his State of the City address, the mayor said the city is looking to build 11,250 affordable apartments above the existing tracks at the 200-acre rail yard, comparing the proposal to the original mission of housing developments like Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.

"That's enough housing for over 30,000 hardworking New Yorkers," de Blasio said during his speech. "It will be a game changer."

Cuomo's office, however, tried to shoot down the idea, saying the state and the MTA are considering "potential future uses of the site from a long term planning perspective."

"The MTA uses Sunnyside Yards as an important facility for our transportation system, and it is not available for any other use in the near term," Melissa DeRosa, the governor's communications director, said in a statement.

But the city has the rights to a considerable portion of the yards, the majority of which are owned by Amtrak.

The MTA owns 66 acres of Sunnyside Yards, 44 acres of which the city owns the air rights for and can legally build above. Another 23 acres belong to private owners, while Amtrak owns 113 acres.

In a statement, Amtrak said it has started considering development options for the yards.

"We are working with the City and others to understand what potential exists for this incredibly unique site and recognize and support the Mayor’s strong interest in advancing affordable housing as part of any major new development," Amtrak said.

The city will start a feasibility study this month to gauge the "costs and infrastructure needs required to redevelop the rail yards," according to a press release.

"As the Mayor indicated in his address, our feasibility study will constitute an exhaustive process undertaken with local stakeholders to activate the Sunnyside Yards while continuing their role as a vital link in the region’s rail system," de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said in a statement. "We have engaged the MTA and Amtrak to ensure that any development prioritizes their transit operations.”

There's been much public discussion of developing Sunnyside Yards over the last several months. Community Board 2 said in October that it planned to send a letter to the Queens Borough President's Office to request a feasibility study be done on developing housing at the site.

"We know that this site has different parts of it. Some parts could easily handle larger buildings being built there, other parts of this site could not," the mayor said in his speech. "We'll work closely with elected officials and community leaders to determine what makes sense and how to build this the right way."

In a statement, state Sen. Michael Gianaris agreed that Western Queens needs more affordable housing, and stressed that any plan should also address infrastructure in the area.

"Any future development must bring with it more and better schools, new parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line," he said.

The idea was one of several de Blasio put forth in his speech on Tuesday, including the announcement that six neighborhoods across the city will be rezoned to include mandatory affordable housing requirements. Among them is Long Island City, where officials will be studying Queensboro Plaza.

The mayor also announced expanded ferry service across the city, including to Astoria and Rockaway.