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Board Votes Down Controversial Affordable Building Proposed for Sunnyside

By Jeanmarie Evelly | June 3, 2016 3:07pm | Updated on June 5, 2016 8:07pm
 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 — Queens Community Board 2 voted Thursday night against a developer's plan to build an affordable apartment building on Barnett Avenue, citing community concerns about the size of the project and the impact it would have on the surrounding area.

Phipps Houses applied for a zoning change to build the seven to 10-story development at 50-25 Barnett Ave. between 50th and 52nd streets, with 209 apartments for low- and moderate-income families and space for a community facility, possibly a pre-k program.

But CB2 voted to oppose the plan, saying the size and scale of the building is out of context with the rest of the neighborhood and that the developer didn't do enough to address how the project will affect local infrastructure, including parking, school overcrowding and public transit. 

The board also questioned whether the project — which will include apartments for households making 50, 100 and 130 percent of the area median income — would be truly affordable, saying more units in the plan should be set side for residents on the lower end of the income spectrum.

CB2's issues largely echoed those expressed by residents opposed to the project. An online petition opposed to plan with more than 400 signatures worries the building would "tower" over the rest of the area and "bring more crowding and congestion of every kind, including increased traffic and parking woes, threats to safety and quiet."

But Sunnyside resident Jack Freeman spoke in favor of the proposal at Thursday night's meeting, saying the building could be "a relief valve for keeping gentrification somewhat in-check."

"Here is a site and a development that is not going to be displacing anybody, that is going to increase the inventory of units affordable to residents of Sunnyside who want to remain there," he said.

CB2's vote is only a recommendation, and the proposal still needs to go through the rest of the city's Uniform Land Review Procedure and will eventually be voted on by the City Council.

The area's local council member, Jimmy Van Bramer, said in a statement that he "cannot support the project" based on the number of issues raised by the community and the fact that Phipps' has yet to make any changes to the proposal in response to the criticism.

"I fully believe we need more affordable housing, and have demonstrated this support many times, but this does not mean that every project is the right one or in the right location," he said.

Phipps says it plans to address infrastructure concerns when it completes its environmental assessment of the project. The company's CEO, Adam Weinstein, said in a statement that they are taking the public's criticism into account to "assess what changes we can realistically make."

"We remain hopeful that we can work together to take advantage of this opportunity: to develop a 100 percent affordable building in the heart of Sunnyside geared toward middle-income residents, and to address the genuine affordability crisis faced by so many in the community," he said.