STOP THE CONSTRUCTION OF A 180-ACRE DECK - ALMOST 7X LARGER THAN HUDSON YARDS - OVER THE SUNNYSIDE RAIL YARDS THAT WILL CAUSE DISPLACEMENT AND OVERCROWDING OF RESIDENTS AND SMALL BUSINESSES IN WESTERN QUEENS! by Emily Sharpe
Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials want to use our tax dollars to build a multibillion-dollar platform over Sunnyside Yards, then sell it in parcels to multiple private real estate developers so they can build large-scale commercial and residential buildings. Not only will this lead to more overcrowding and displacement of an untold number of residents and small businesses, it will subject residents in Western Queens to decades of noise pollution, dust and traffic congestion, and will create a gentrification ripple effect that will be felt throughout Queens.
Although similar ideas have been around for at least a century, they have never gained enough traction until now. Under the de Blasio administration, this plan is moving forward at an alarming rate. In fact, the steering committee, led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Amtrak, held its first public meeting in October 2018 and its final plan is due at the end of 2019.
Why now? One reason is because the Regional Plan Association (RPA), an unelected and highly influential group of real estate developers, architects, non-profits and others – also responsible for the Hudson Yards luxury over-development – has recently advocated for the Sunnyside Yards to be decked over in order to attract corporate interests to Western Queens to take advantage of the open space, proximity to the city, Cornell Tech and our transportation hub. The RPA plan, which requires large, dense commercial and residential mixed-use buildings of all heights to be successful, acknowledges that long-term residents and businesses will be displaced as a direct result of the conversion of the Sunnyside Yards.
Another reason for renewed interest in the Sunnyside Yards was that it was being used to persuade Amazon to move HQ2 to Long Island City (LIC). As such, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s final proposal to Amazon stated that the company could use portions of the newly created land for their future residential and commercial long-term expansion plans. Although Amazon is no longer coming to LIC, it is not hard to imagine the same deal being made for other corporations. What is conspicuously absent from either the RPA or Amazon plan, however, is an infrastructure plan and assistance for long-time residents, among other things, to accommodate their aggressive plans for population growth.
Indeed, it is well documented that Queens residents have complained of overcrowding and delays on the 7-train for years, with the Flushing/Main Street stop being the busiest in the city, serving an average of 58,000 riders per day - double that of any other stop serviced by a single line in the city! This level of ridership, combined with the fact that LIC will have added approximately 75,000 new residents by 2020, warrants construction of a new line even before the estimated 24,000 new Sunnyside Yards residents arrive.
Furthermore, planned and intentional construction of a new town in Western Queens that knowingly and willfully causes displacement and overcrowding of its current residents is shameful, immoral, and just bad government! Instead, such public funds should be used for direct subsidies for truly affordable housing, not given to developers to create “affordable” housing that is often above market rate because it uses formulas that are tied to wealthier, suburban communities such as Westchester County to determine rental amounts. Public housing residents would also benefit if funds were diverted from the Sunnyside Yards project in order to make their homes safer, healthier and free from the risk of displacement by private developers looking to replace public housing with luxury buildings.
Not only is it incumbent upon Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and other elected officials to provide for the residents and small businesses already here, but they must be innovative in protecting us from the threat of global warming. This means refraining from enacting any policies or plans that would increase carbon emissions. The Sunnyside Yards project is one such plan that must be abandoned because buildings in New York City account for 70% of our total emissions and this plan will most likely add close to one hundred buildings at a time when we should be retrofitting existing buildings, not adding more.
In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, built-up areas where large buildings are clustered together trap heat in buildings, pavement and infrastructure, and can get up to 22°F hotter than low-lying or suburban areas at night. These areas intensify the impacts of extreme heat events, which claimed the lives of 162 New Yorkers in just 12 years, and are expected to increase fivefold over the next 30 years. Water and air pollution also increase in these areas, as do other negative health and economic effects, especially for nearby vulnerable residents such as the young, elderly and low-income, including those at the Queensbridge, Astoria and Ravenswood Houses.
If the Sunnyside Yards is to become anything, it must be used to stop global warming and to help create a green economy. Energy from solar and wind farms would be a smart alternative to natural gas, and would likely fit well within the confines of the rail yards. Funds saved by foregoing this huge corporate give-away could be diverted to projects elsewhere to develop urban farms, green houses, gardens and parklands since open space, bodies of water and vegetation lessen the effects of extreme heat.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, funding and promoting of a project of this nature and magnitude – almost 7 times larger than Hudson Yards – is a bad idea! Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo: STOP ALL PLANS TO DEVELOP SUNNYSIDE YARDS!