Find the Sunnyside Yard Feasibility study here.
SUNNYSIDE YARD FEASIBILITY STUDY – HIGHLIGHTS
“An overbuild development at Sunnyside Yard would be a long-term project that would become a new neighborhood – or neighborhoods – with broad impacts. Large–scale buildings and higher densities will be required to maximize the development potential and the economic viability of the project. Strong and consistent placemaking strategies are essential to balance and “humanize” the scale and density of development, even at this feasibility level of study. The density and scale of the project will also demand design innovation and excellence to create a compelling skyline and first-class public realm.”
Tightly spaced tracks, power systems, and other infrastructure in Sunnyside Yard present a challenge for overbuild development. However, Amtrak and LIRR plan to reconfigure much of Sunnyside Yard. As a result, while some of the existing railroad infrastructure will need to be accommodated below an overbuild development, a significant amount will be replaced, potentially reducing some existing physical constraints.
The major reconfiguration of Sunnyside Yard proposed by Amtrak and MTA is a key factor in making overbuild feasible. Overbuild construction can potentially occur while tracks and other infrastructure are removed and replaced, which would require a coordinated approach by the railroads and developers.
A future overbuild development plan would also have to respond to significant uncertainties. A project of this scale would span several political administrations, multiple economic cycles, and changes to the City’s employment base. Cost effective and operationally-efficient construction of an overbuild will include large up-front expenditures that may not see returns for many decades.
ECONOMIC FEASIBILITY – EXTRAORDINARY COSTS
A railyard over-build development project at the scale contemplated for Sunnyside Yard will incur a range of extraordinary costsassociated with materials, labor, and equipment. Where possible, the study has sought to incorporate lower-cost solutions through its assumptions, with regard to foundation type and material selection. Other onsite costs that are factored into this analysis include railroad labor (“force account”).
The existing and future railroad operations will impose significant constraints for overbuild feasibility. Assumptions involving Amtrak’s Sunnyside Yard Master Plan are predicated on its 2014 vision of its 2030 operations. As the Master Plan implementation progresses over time, assumptions may need to be reconsidered and the plan for the overbuild adjusted accordingly.
A project of this nature faces risks due to shifting political priorities, as well as changes in expected revenue and/or cost assumptions. Modifications of density or the planned program could alter feasibility, as well as impact existing transportation networks and other offsite considerations. Multiple railroads, complex infrastructure, and the sheer scale of such an overbuild project would require exceptional coordination and a long-term perspective from all involved parties.
Certain areas of the Yard, particularly above the Main Line tracks, are exceptionally encumbered by heavy rail traffic and physical infrastructure. These areas were determined to be infeasible for decking as they exist today.
Detailed cooperation will be necessary at all levels between the railroad companies, the City, any development entity, and developers.
If Sunnyside Yard is to be fully decked, the cables could be placed into a new micro-tunnel that would be constructed from 43rd Street to Hunters Point Avenue, with additional connections at various locations along Harold Interlocking. The technical challenges of this would be considerable given the existing tunnels below the Main Line, the bouldery ground, the sensitive infrastructure above the tunnel, and the special requirements for high-voltages cables (heat generation/dissipation, electromagnetic frequency interferences, maintenance access between high voltage lines and other electronic devices, cable pulling, waterproofing, etc.). These would need to be investigated and discussed with the railroads.
Areas that are most difficult to build over should be left un-decked. A target of 80-85% overall deck coverage is appropriate given Yard constraints.
If the Main Line tracks were not decked over, it is possible that most of the towers could remain. However, they would still be a visual nuisance for any adjacent overbuild development.
Construction of an overbuild development over Sunnyside Yard is technically feasible, but has many engineering challenges. In the most challenging areas, such as over the Main Line, the practicality of constructing a deck is questionable.
Amtrak East River Tunnel repairs
Two of the East River Tunnels were flooded with salt water during Hurricane Sandy. All four of the tunnels are in need of repair (Reference 3), and designs are being developed for such work. Repair work may require that one tunnel at a time be taken out of service for an extended period of time from 18 to 24 months.
There is likely to be limited overlap between East River Tunnel repairs and an overbuild project. During any overlap there could be both positive impacts arising from fewer train movements, but also negative impacts arising from increased demand for railroad support personnel, as described above. The net impact on an overbuild is likely to be negative given that more construction affecting Sunnyside Yard is likely to complicate coordination and limit available resources.
Substructure and Decking Costs
The cost of materials, labor, and equipment were estimated using data from other large engineering projects in New York and comparable cities. In general, these projects were on terra firma sites, whereas Sunnyside Yard will be constructed above active rail lines, which significantly increases labor and equipment costs. This additional cost was estimated using comparable projects, such as Hudson Yards and Pacific Park overbuilds, and the additional cost was incorporated using “constructability multipliers,” which are discussed below.
Total Development Costs
Total development cost for Sunnyside Yard would include all of the horizontal costs (both in and outside of building footprints) and all vertical costs associated with the development of the overbuild. Total development cost in each test case range from approximately $16 billion to $19 billion in 2017 dollars, depending on the test case.
Gross Land Proceeds: Value a developer would pay for the land and development rights, considering normal development costs if this were a typical development on terra firma.
Cost by Test Case
Test Case 1 (Residential) generates $3.98 billion in gross land proceeds. Overbuild premium costs are approximately $2.38 billion and onsite and offsite horizontal costs are approximately $3.33 billion. Test Case 1 results in -$1.73 billion in residual land value.
Test Case 2 (Live/Work/Play) generates $3.33 billion in gross land proceeds, the lowest among the three test cases due to the inclusion of over 3 million SF of office in Zone G and over 1 million SF of academic space in Zone F. Overbuild premium costs are approximately $3.38 billion. Onsite and offsite horizontal costs are approximately $3.43 billion, resulting in -$3.48 billion in residual land value.
Test Case 3 (Destination) generates $3.93 billion in gross land proceeds and $2.85 billion in overbuild cost premium. Onsite and offsite horizontal costs are approximately $2.93 billion, resulting in -$1.85 billion in residual land value.
The development of Sunnyside Yard would unlock potential future tax revenues that could potentially offset project costs.
Cost - Core Yard Only
Based on an understanding of the technical constraints and the lessons learned by optimizing feasibility for the three test case scenarios, the Core Yard, defined as Zones D, C, and B-South covering approximately 70 acres, has been identified as an area most viable for development, and would be a likely early phase of the total overbuild project.
The development of the Core Yard could bring substantial benefit to the City, including approximately 11,000 to 15,000 total new housing units, 15 to 20 acres of open space, and new schools, community facilities, and retail amenities to serve surrounding communities and new residents. The Core Yard could create at least 3,300 to 4,500 new permanently affordable housing units, helping to meet City policy goals.
Total development cost is approximately $10 billion in 2017 dollars.
After accounting for approximately $1.81 billion in overbuild premium and approximately $1.84 billion in onsite and offsite horizontal costs, the Core Yard can have an estimated residual land value of -$798 million.
A negative residual land value indicates that public investment will be required in the project. The financial feasibility of the project was evaluated by analyzing the public goods and tax proceeds that would be generated by this potential investment.
Based on railroad operations and the future track layout, the Core Yard could support a high density of residential uses. The majority of the area is under single ownership and overlaps with elements of the Amtrak Master Plan requiring immediate coordination.
Transportation (vehicular travel included)
Under current conditions, transportation in and around Sunnyside Yard Study Area is generally under or at capacity, accessible, and levels of service for vehicular traffic are generally acceptable. Increases in residential and commercial development will increase transportation demand, which may necessitate an increase in transportation capacity. It is anticipated that the increased demand on transportation infrastructure projected after an overbuild would exceed the capacity of the existing transportation infrastructure.
Observations of on-street parking within a 1/4-mile radius of the project site were conducted in Fall 2015 during both the morning and evening peak periods. Based on these observations, the average overall weekday utilization for on-street parking appeared to be very high (close to 100%) during both time periods. Peak times 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. in the morning and from 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. p40
A central, roughly east-west-oriented boulevard along the length of Sunnyside Yard should be established to link different phases of development.
Transit (subway and busses)
In all submarkets except for Ravenswood, more residents commute to Midtown Manhattan to work than any other major Central Business District in the City. In total, 83% of the Study Area population works throughout the City. A majority of the population commutes to work by subway, at rates close to twice the borough and citywide averages.
Existing transit networks lack capacity to handle the additional development of a full buildout. Investments would need to be made to improve capacity at existing subway lines and stations.
Skillman Avenuecould also be a potential location for a surface transit line.
The feasibility study for Sunnyside Yard assumes the construction of the previously proposed Sunnyside Station… [l]ocated along Queens Boulevard… [t]he station would serve LIRR lines.
There is also the potential to add an additional elevated station stop on the No. 7 subway line on the Queens Boulevard Bridge, and connect this to Sunnyside Station as a possible intermodal station.
[S]ome of the infrastructure, particularly sewers and water mains, is agingand may have inadequate capacity to meet future demands.
As other new developments occur to the north and west of Sunnyside Yard, it is anticipated that various private and public utility lines may be incrementally upgraded locally to accommodate the demand requirements within the local street frontage for these various developments; however, these upgrades may not be adequate to comprehensively address issues of aging infrastructure, piecemeal redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as demands of Sunnyside Yard overbuild.
The majority of water mains in the streets surrounding Sunnyside Yard are aging (most are 50 years old or older) and they may not be large enough to support the major increase in demand that will be imposed by the overbuild development. In order to meet those demands, improvements to the water distribution network would be warranted.
The existing sewers are generally adequately sized to handle dry weather sanitary flows from the overbuild. To accommodate the increased sanitary flows, existing storm flows from Sunnyside Yard and adjacent City streets would need to be diverted from the combined sewer system to a new separate storm-only sewer that would run along Skillman Ave and outfall to the Dutch Kill.
MARKET ASSUMPTIONS – RESIDENTIAL LAND USES
Over the past 15 years, the emergence of high-performing real estate submarkets along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront has transformed an underutilized industrial waterfront into one of the City’s most promising growth corridors. This transformation is evident in western submarkets where development activity is taking place – in those areasrents outperform the rest of the Study Area by 30% to 60%.However, the western submarkets still trail comparable Brooklyn-Queens waterfront submarkets by 5% to 20%.
The initial phase of market-rate residential rental development at Sunnyside Yard could reach current price levels observed in the Court Square/Queens Plaza submarkets. Residential condo sale price is expected to be comparable to LIC waterfront given the level of amen[i]ties and finishes expected.
HAZARD CONCERNS – DURING/AFTER
Fire and ventilation
Overbuild poses some safety considerations such as adequate exhaust of heat and diesel fumes generated by stored trains, fire and life safety ventilation, standpipes, and egress.
The deck would create an enclosed space at train level. A significant design consideration will be ventilation and fire safety.
Fireis a significant risk presented by enclosing Sunnyside Yard. A fire within a train car could create a smoke condition that endangers life and health below the deck, and could release heat that impacts the deck structure.
Ventilation would be required for managing smoke in a fire emergency as well as managing train heat and other air quality impacts from diesel locomotives or maintenance operations. The noise generated by the fans, and its impact on the working environment under a deck, should be evaluated. The impact of noise on buildings above a deck should also be considered. Silencers on the fans may be required.
Contamination – SUPERFUND SITE
Sunnyside Yard has been used as a train yard for over 100 years, resulting in spilled oil, fuel, and other products. In combination with water-borne compounds that have migrated into Sunnyside Yard from off-site sources, contamination has affected several areas of the site.
In December 1986, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) listed approximately 133 acres of Sunnyside Yard as a Class 2 Site in the Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in New York, also known as the State Superfund Site registry. A Class 2 Site is a site at which hazardous waste presents a significant threat to the public health or the environment and action is required.
Since Sunnyside Yard opened in 1910, releases of contaminants associated with fueling operations of trains and vehicles, maintenance activities, train-mounted transformers, cinder and coal ash from coal-fired locomotives and coal fired boilers, and peeling lead-based paint from the four bridges that span Sunnyside Yard, have resulted in the presence of hazardous wastes at the site, includingpolychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons considered, as subset of SVOCs, to be carcinogenic (cPAHs), and lead.
The Sunnyside Yard complex includes areas outside the 133 acres classified by NYSDEC as a Class 2 site. These include all the property owned by the MTA (such as the LIRR Mid-Day Storage Yard, Arch Street Yard, and Hunterspoint Avenue LIRR station), the General Motors facility, and Amtrak property to the west of Thomson Avenue. Fewer investigations have been performed in these areas, but being outside the Class 2 area, they are considered to have generally lower levels of contamination. Nevertheless, they have operated as railroad yards and facilities for more than 100 years and various types and concentrations of contamination can be anticipated.
The Superfund Site specific clean up levels were established based on the fact that the site would remain a railyardand all future use of Sunnyside Yard would be regulated through institutional controls.
Many of the buildings and other facilities in Sunnyside Yard were found to contain lead-based paint and asbestos. Asbestos-cement (“transite”) conduits were discovered in areas around the Main Line, and may exist elsewhere in Sunnyside Yard. Asbestos products require special handling to prevent release of harmful particles. Safe removal of such items, where required for construction, can significantly extend the schedule.
It is possible that additional contamination that has not yet been identified, or that has been released from adjacent properties, exists on the Superfund Site. Properties directly adjacent to Sunnyside Yard may have caused direct impacts to the soils and groundwater from hazardous materials and/or petroleum-based products due to spills, improper handling and storage of wastes, or manufacturing/ commercial use of chemicals. Properties that are not directly adjacentto Sunnyside Yard may not have direct impacts to the soils; however, if the hazardous material/petroleum release is hydraulically up-gradient of the site, then Sunnyside Yard may be impacted by contaminated groundwater or soil vapor issues. Releases impacting groundwater on cross-gradient or down-gradient properties may also impact the Superfund Site depending on the hydrogeology of the area. A detailed investigation of adjacent propertieswas not conducted as part of this study, but light industry exists all around the site and spills have been reported.
Although much of the contamination previously present on the Superfund Site has been identified and remediated, the site has a long history of potential contamination from railroad maintenance operations, and remains classified as a Class 2 Superfund Site. It is therefore probable that any major development project, such as Amtrak’s Master Plan railyard expansion project or an overbuild development project, would encounter contaminated ground or groundwater.
Potential pathways of exposure would need to be identified and mitigation plans developed to eliminate risk to the public, construction workers, and the larger environment.
During construction, it is anticipated that foundations, consisting of drilled shafts and pile caps, would be constructed beneath the existing track bed. Soils in the projected areas of excavation would need to be tested either in-situ or post-excavation in order to ensure the proper management of waste.
If the entire structure is constructed on an elevated deck, then adverse impacts from contaminated soils and groundwater of the site would not be anticipated, but emissions from diesel-powered locomotives may be a potential hazard. Developing a site with known contamination requires that the potential pathways of exposure are identified and mitigation plans are implemented to eliminate this risk to users. For instance, if any occupied basements or grade-level rooms are to be constructed directly on the soils of the Superfund Site, and if elevated levels of VOCs remain at the site in the soil gas, then the building design may need to incorporate measures such as vapor barriers and/or venting systems to eliminate the potential for soil vapor exposure.
Due to the nature of hazardous contaminants located at the site, it is not anticipated that these contaminants would have a corrosive effect on the foundation shafts and pile caps to be installed at the site. However, the intent of testing performed at the site was to identify and delineate areas of soil and groundwater contamination. Additional soil and groundwater testing should be performed to determine whether corrosive constituents are present at the site in the locations where the proposed foundation shafts are to be installed.
High Density Residential
The core of the residential uses should be located in the central and eastern areas of Sunnyside Yard. The more regular spacing of tracks in this area permits higher building heights and densities.
Maximizing the amount of square footage that can be developed while minimizing the structural costs to build it helps optimize the feasibility of overbuild development. Taller buildings, “towers”, create a large amount of square footage in a small footprint. The strategic placement, height, and footprint of the development towers is key to the feasibility of an overbuild.
All buildings are assumed to have a 60’ base or podium. Buildings without towers are assumed to consist only of a podium.
Buildings with towers are assumed to require a mega transfer truss that transfers the load of weight to columns below. The mega truss is in 1-3 floors of the podium
Low Rise: -Up to 10 floors above podium • Mid Rise: - Up to 38 floors above podium • High Rise: - Up to 64 floors above podium
• Low Rise: - Up to 14 floors above podium • Mid Rise: - Up to 28 floors above podium • High Rise: - Up to 39 floors above podium
Tower Spacing: For Residential towers, space between towers facing each other should be a minimum of 100’ wide, with 120’ being preferable. For comparison, buildings on opposite sides of a typical Manhattan side street would generally have a spacing of 60’ at the building base and 90’ between building towers above the base. A slightly higher standard was used because of the anticipated density, and the desire to avoid creating overly narrow street canyons.
Height and Column Spans: The achievable height for buildings generally corresponds to the length of spans required between column lines at the track level. Taller towers work over shorter spans, but not over longer spans. At long spans the deck itself can support open space and low-rise development of 60’ (five residential stories) or less
DECK HEIGHT REQUIREMENTS
The height of any deck over the tracks would vary across Sunnyside Yard, based on Amtrak, LIRR, and Main Line railroad vertical clearance requirements, railroad operations, and existing/planned ground topography/track elevation. Existing grade elevations vary as much as 60’ across the site. Some tracks slope down as they move from east to west to enter tunnels, while the Main Line gradually climbs as it moves from west to east, so that it crosses approximately 18’ to 19’ above street level at 43rd Street at the eastern end of Sunnyside Yard.
Deck Height (Figure 4.2)
5 Feet to 109 Feet
Existing catenary and the towers that carry it create further complications for a potential deck. A replacement system for the catenary towers and lines would need to be integrated into any deck structure. A potential deck itself would range from 9’ to 16’ deep (vertical thickness between top surface and underside), depending on span and load conditions.
The required vertical clearance from the top of rail to the underside of structural deck or fixtures is 26’- 9” for Amtrak and 22’-0” for LIRR. This is a desired clearance, and, in practice, Amtrak and MTA may agree to grant waivers to reduce it. It should be noted that existing bridges have clearances as low as 16’-8” and do not meet the desired clearance requirements. While it may be possible to extend suboptimal clearances for a limited distance from the bridges, they cannot be extended across the entire deck area. As a result, the proposed deck surface is often considerably higher than the existing bridge surfaces. This situation is exacerbated at the two ends of a bridge where it slope down to meet the at-grade street network.
Onsight Deck Access
Access to the deck from the bridges and ensuring the activation of the adjacent public realm would require substantial further study, analysis, engineering, and coordination with railroad operations, but is essential to the quality of the development of Sunnyside Yard.
Where the deck would taper down to meet an existing bridge, waivers for reduced railroad clearances would need to be worked out with the railroads.
Offsite Deck access
The deck surface is generally 20’ to 40’ above the street level of the surrounding area. Creating an accessible link between the deck and the adjacent streets presents a design challenge. Most areas along the perimeter of Sunnyside Yard offer very limited horizontal space to make a gradual transition. Grades of 5% or less are recommended for comfortable transitions for both vehicles based on standards for public buses and for pedestrians, based on the threshold slope for a ramp by code building code.
Grades of up to 14% are possible for short distances for vehicles. Switchbacks, stairs, or elevators will be required to make pedestrian connections. All pedestrian access routes are required to meet ADA requirements for accessibility.
This potential access point at the east end of Queens Plaza would be for pedestrians only. A vehicular connection at this location was deemed infeasible due to the steep grades required and the configuration of traffic flows at the Queens Boulevard/Northern Boulevard intersection.
The potential access point between Honeywell and 39th Streets would also be for pedestrians only. The limited horizontal space available creates grades that are too steep for vehicular access.
Northern Boulevard East
This potential access point for vehicles and pedestrians is at the northeastern corner of the site and takes advantage of a portion of the site that extends east and straddles both sides of 42nd Place. The access road would bridge over 42nd Place before turning north and ramping down to meet Northern Boulevard near its intersection with 36th Avenue. As a primary connection between Sunnyside Boulevard and the surrounding street system, this connection would be important to the connectivity of the development.
The potential access point is at the southeastern area of the site, located approximately where an existing bridge crosses over the Loop Tracks. This access point takes advantage of a piece of the site where the top of the proposed deck is roughly at the same elevation as the adjacent street (43rd Street). The access would be for both vehicles and pedestrians.
Skillman Avenue/41st Street
The potential access point at the southeastern area of the site would be for vehicles and pedestrians and takes advantage of a portion of the site where the top of the proposed deck is roughly at the same elevation as Skillman Avenue.
Strategies for Pedestrian Access
There are ample opportunities along Skillman Avenue for pedestrian access to the deck.
Where a larger footprint is available adjacent to the deck a ramp can provide access. Depending on configuration, the ramp could be oriented parallel or perpendicular to the deck edge, or configured as a switchback ramp. This could be appropriate where streets dead-end into Sunnyside Yard or where the adjacent public right-of-way runs parallel to the deck edge. Existing parking lanes could be used as an area for ramps, which would minimize impact on pedestrian or vehicular flow.
RESIDENTIAL BUILDING PRIORITY
Residential Absorption Assumptions
Formulating a credible absorption forecast is an important metric when assessing the viability of large-scale urban redevelopment.
An absorption estimate seeks to establish the rate at which a particular land use will be leased or sold in a particular market during a given time period.
Absorption is an important factor when assessing the possibility of overbuild redevelopment at Sunnyside Yard, as it will drive the rate at which vertical development can be successfully phased, delivered, and occupied.
The following assumptions for residential delivery have been incorporated into the project’s financial modeling, physical design, and phasing plan:
Average deliveries for market-rate residential development across the build-out of the project are estimated to total 520 units per year. This assumption is 25% higher than the projected absorption for comparable residential megaprojects, and reflects the particular strength of local market conditions in LIC.
Affordable housing units can generally be absorbed at any volume; their delivery rate would only be constrained by construction timing and the availability of financing.
Relative to the projected residential population, the aggregate open space described provides approximately .97 acres per 1,000 residents. While this is below the recommended CEQR target of 1.25-acres per 1,000 residents, the quantity is equal to or above what is provided by other large-scale developments in New York City.