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Plan to Build Over Queens Rail Yard Will Cost Up to $19 Billion, Study Says

 Sunnyside Yard in Queens.
Sunnyside Yard in Queens.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

QUEENS — Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposal to develop on top of Sunnyside Yard in order to build thousands of new units of affordable housing would cost somewhere between $16 and $19 billion to carry out, according to a new study by the city.

The feasibility study, released by the city's Economic Development Corporation on Monday, is the first to comprehensively explore potential development of the 180-acre active rail yard — which is six times the size of Manhattan's Hudson Yards and one of the few remaining large plots of land left to build on in the city, officials said.

Developing the Queens rail yard would create "the largest and most complex urban development site in New York City," the study says.

"A project of this scale would span several political administrations, multiple economic cycles, and changes to the City’s employment base," the study reads.

"Cost-effective and operationally-efficient construction of an overbuild will include large up-front expenditures that may not see returns for many decades."

Underway since the summer of 2015, the study found that it is possible to build over a majority of the rail yard, with between just 15 to 20 percent of the site deemed too expensive or difficult to develop.

It looked at three different "test cases" for how the yard could be developed, with one that would maximize the amount of housing, another that would also include office space and a third that would include entertainment and cultural destinations.

In each case, the study found that development of the yards could create between 14,000 and 24,000 new housing units — including 4,200 to 7,200 affordable units — 31 to 52 acres of open space, new schools, community facilities and retail amenities.

The site could generate between $1.31 billion and $1.53 billion in property taxes over a 40-year span, according to the study.

The report also identified a 70-acre portion of the Sunnyside Yard it deemed the "most viable for development," located northeast of Queens Boulevard, that would be best for the first phases of potential development.

This area alone — dubbed the "Core Yard" — could accommodate between 11,000 to 15,000 new housing units, 3,300 to 4,500 of them affordable, and 15 to 20 acres of open space, the study says. It would cost about $10 billion to develop.

Core Yard The study recommends this 70-acre site, outlined in pink, as the first place for potential development. (NYC EDC)

"Sunnyside Yard represents one of our greatest opportunities to invest in the affordable housing, good jobs, open space and public transit Western Queens needs," Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said in a statement accompanying the study.

"We have taken a hard look at what it will take to build over the Yard," she continued. "It's challenging, but it’s both physically and financially feasible."

Mayor de Blasio first proposed building over Sunnyside Yard during his state of the State of the City address in 2015, citing the rail yard as a "game changer" for its potential for new affordable housing.

He butted heads with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the plan, with the governor's office telling reporters at the time that Sunnyside Yards was "not available for any other use in the near term."

Cuomo's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday on the city's feasibility study. The MTA, which owns a portion of the site — much of which the city owns the air rights to — also did not return a message seeking comment.

Tony Coscia, the board chairman of Amtrak, which owns a majority of the rail yard, called the study an "important first step."

"While additional analysis is needed, we are pleased to have taken this important step forward," Coscia said in a statement. "The Yard plays a crucial role in the daily operation of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and any future use must take this into account."

The EDC said it plans to engage with local stakeholders to get community feedback on the potential development this spring.