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Petition Protests 10-Story Affordable Building Planned for Sunnyside

 The petition argues the proposed Barnett Avenue building is out of character with the rest of the area.
Phipps Houses Renderings
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SUNNYSIDE — A petition with more than 200 signatures is taking aim at a developer's plan to build an affordable housing development in Sunnyside, arguing the 10-story building is out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.

Phipps Houses is planning a building that will range from seven to 10 stories and contain 220 apartments — all of them affordable — at the site of a parking lot on Barnett Avenue between 50th and 52nd streets. The building may also include space for a pre-k center, according to the owner.

While the developer says it has taken pains to make sure the proposal fits in with the rest of the neighborhood, an online petition launched earlier this week argues the planned building is too large and would put a strain on the area's parking, schools and transportation options.

"The size and the scale of this proposed building would pose a threat to everything that is wonderful about where we live," one person who signed the petition wrote. "I am not anti-growth but you need to have the infrastructure — schools, transportation, parking, etc — that we simply do not have here."

Adam Weinstein, the president of Phipps Houses — a longtime developer of affordable housing which also operates the Phipps Gardens Apartments across the street from the development site — said they purposely designed the building to be as unobtrusive as possible.

That includes creating a wider, 15-foot sidewalk with trees in front as well as setting parts of the building further back from the street.

"We set the center height of the building further back, creating almost like a front courtyard," Weinstein said, which "reduces tremendously the feeling that you're building up to the property line," and will make the building less overwhelming against its surroundings, he explained.

While exact income ranges for the affordable apartments haven't been set yet, there would be a mix of units set aside for low, middle and moderate income families — filling a serious need in the neighborhood, Weinstein said.

"Pick up the paper everyday and read about the problems of people getting priced out of neighborhoods that used to be workforce housing," he said.

"We really feel very committed to helping the mayor address, I think, a very well documented and very clearly stated crisis in middle income neighborhoods like Sunnyside."

Pat O'Brien, chairman for Community Board 2, called Phipps "a very reputable developer" but acknowledged that residents have a lot of concerns about the proposal.

"It's a narrow strip," he said. "There's issues with parking, the density and the size. It's right up on the railroad. There's a lot of stuff to be considered."

Weinstein says they are currently conducting an environmental review of the project to determine what impact it might have on the surrounding neighborhood.

"The Department of City Planning will be very, very rigorous that we not create an adverse condition without mitigation," he said.

The developer will be applying for a zoning change in order to build residential on the manufacturing-zoned block, meaning the plan will also need to undergo the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure before it can go forward.

Weinstein estimates the public review of the plan will start this fall or later this year.

"I welcome the public discussion," he said.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who would eventually cast a vote for or against the plan, said he's aware of the worries that have been raised by some of his constituents.

"I hear their concerns and I have my own concerns about the project," he said. "This is only a proposed project at the moment that is far from becoming a reality."