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 others want to use our tax dollars to build a multibillion-dollar platform over Sunnyside Yards, then sell it in parcels to multiple 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 almost 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 planning 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, acknowledges that long-term residents and businesses will be displaced as a direct result of the conversion of the Sunnyside Yards due to the inevitable rising costs of residential and commercial rents.
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 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 a plan to create a new, desperately needed subway line into Manhattan 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 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 and healthier.
Additionally, it is incumbent upon Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and other elected officials to protect us from the threat of global warming. This means refraining from enacting any policies or plans that would increase carbon emissions. It also means refraining from being fooled into thinking that more buildings would have little effect on the environment as long as steps were taken to ameliorate their carbon footprints. The Sunnyside Yards project is one such plan that must be abandoned because it will be comprised of close to one hundred buildings, and buildings in New York City account for 70% of its total emissions!
What’s more, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, built-up areas such as this 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 also intensify the impacts of extreme heat events, which claimed the lives of 162 New York City residents in just twelve years and are expected to increase fivefold over the next thirty 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 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. Such things as urban farms, green houses, gardens, parklands and innovative renewable energy source projects would be necessary since open space, bodies of water and vegetation lessen the effects of extreme heat, which would be particularly beneficial to Western Queens since the district consists of a mere 2% acres of parkland versus the citywide average of 19%.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, funding and promoting of a project of this magnitude – almost 7 times larger than the Hudson Yards – with an estimated 24,000 new residential units and countless other commercial behemoths, is a bad idea! If Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo truly care about New Yorkers, and Queens residents in particular, they must STOP ALL CURRENT PLANS TO DEVELOP THE SUNNYSIDE YARDS!