“We don’t need any starchitects” -community lays heat on Sunnyside Yards planners

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Vishaan Chakrabarti – whom for some reason was only addressed as “Vishaan” – the head architect involved in the Sunnyside Yards master plan, had the P.S. 166 auditorium lights dimmed to better show his slide show, leaving him a silhouette against abstract layouts of the rail yard. He expressed how given the high rises at the Queens Plaza end of the yards and the near-suburban Sunnyside Gardens district at its opposite end, the team was looking into wider spread mid-rises, and not just high-rises. He said the team was looking for a “sweet spot” of human scale blocks. He said the yards is an opportunity to right wrongs such as trash piles and sludge puddles at curbs. 

But the first question, from a Community Board 2 member, was how this was going to be paid for. Neither Chakrabarti or Cali Williams, who leads the master plan team, wanted to discuss the price tag, which has been projected at $16 to 19 billion. “This is a complicated and challenging site,” and the costs and funding will be figured out along the way, Williams said. 

This was the second public meeting for the Sunnyside Yards, two years after a feasibility report was released. About a year ago, Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, was tapped to join the master plan team, with Williams, an Economic Development Corporation vet, at its head. 

When Williams tried to end the Q&A to get to the breakout sessions, a woman interrupted her to say there were more questions in the room, which filled out with a few hundred people. Many applauded the interruption. Williams caved and said she’d allow two more questions. 

The first questioner then, thanked and praised the planning team. “What I hear is that you guys want to do the right thing,” he said. “Nobody gets shafted in this, generally.” 

That guy set the whole thing off. A younger guy near me stood up and shot back about how his friends have been removed from Astoria, Ravenswood and the nearby neighborhoods. He said when the affordable units come, “good luck trying to win the lottery to get there in the first place!” Many people applauded. 

I attended a breakout session on urban design. Somehow I wound up at the one table, apparently, that didn’t have any activists. First our guide showed us pictures of existing buildings, each from a neighborhood in Western Queens, with a corresponding grid showing how much Floor Area Ratio the building used per block. We were asked to put a sticker on the picture we thought would be most appropriate for the Sunnyside Yards. After examining all the pictures, I pointed out that the pictures were misleading – and I wasn’t trying to be especially clever. The tallest-thinnest looking building somehow took up more space on a block than a smaller and wider-looking building took up of a different block. And the buildings were all totally different styles, including public housing. Continue reading ““We don’t need any starchitects” -community lays heat on Sunnyside Yards planners”

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Sunnyside Yards in Abstract

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Above: “Sunnyside Yard 25” by Andrea Belag 

Artist Andrea Belag has rendered a series of abstract prints named after the Sunnyside Yards. Above, “Sunnyside Yard 25,” says Pinterest, is “a large exuberant abstract monoprint, with brush strokes both gestural and minimalist.” The 2016 piece is priced at $2,875. Same for other prints, also named “Sunnyside Yard” and numbered. Belag told me she made the prints at VanDeb Editions on Northern Boulevard. “I could see Sunnyside Yards out the window,” she said.

Belag’s work will be on exhibit at the Morgan Lehman Gallery in Chelsea on April 4.

NYT: City “Renewal” program failed at P.S. 111 and other notes…

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The New York Times highlighted P.S. 111 in upper Long Island City this week as a school Mayor de Blasio’s “Renewal” program has failed to help. The program, launched in 2014, invested millions in the city’s 94 poorest schools. The Times reports that non-public internal documents said in as early as December 2015 that a third of those schools would not likely meet the program’s goals. 

P.S. 111, or the Jacob Blackwell School, between 13th and 21st streets, 38th and 37th avenues, served as the featured school in the story. Only 8 percent of students passed the state’s math exam this year, fewer than before Renewal. Officials considered closing P.S. 111 the last few years. A memo noted that Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, education committee chair, would likely fight the closure. The Times notes city data reports the school is safer than it was when the current principal, Dionne Jaggon, took over in 2014. (Read piece here). 

Other notes…
Continue reading “NYT: City “Renewal” program failed at P.S. 111 and other notes…”

Comptroller comes to LIC to take on City Hall

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A great grandfather at the front of the line for the microphone told Comptroller Scott Stringer he’s sick of bridges and streets getting named after politicians. Stringer said he admitted he fantasized of one day telling his son that “Stringerway” was once called “Broadway.” 

Stringer, an almost-2013 candidate for mayor and thought-to-be 2021 mayoral hopeful, had the jokes at his Long Island City town hall at the CUNY School of Law. When one person insisted that City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has his eyes set on being mayor, Stringer said, don’t you hate people who want to be mayor? 

Stringer wasn’t just here to understand the needs of one region of Queens. He was here to make allies in his fight against City Hall – and probably for it. He knew that many of the complaints would be about housing and development. That’s everywhere, but in LIC, the towers are shooting up around us into the sky and the people are anxious about school space, train space, park space and sewage. Stringer is positioned as a high-level politician with views juxtaposed to the mayor’s housing strategy, setting himself as a more progressive alternative. 

“I don’t believe that this is how we should build our city,” he said in reference to Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for economic development. “We’ve got to change the system. And the way we’re building our city is, we’re doing it backwards.”   Continue reading “Comptroller comes to LIC to take on City Hall”

City: Sunnyside Yards yes, BQX maybe later

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Images from EDC and Friends of the BQX.

There are two threads of headlines this week for the LIC and Astoria area: 

  1. The city is officially moving forward with a Sunnyside Yards development master plan.
  2. The city officially left important BQX stuff out of its budget. 

That means, the city is on top of developing a mega housing development over the Sunnyside Yards (a lot of people in Astoria and LIC don’t know what that is, but it’s the huge swath of train land east of Northern Boulevard that you see from either the N/W or 7 trains when approaching or leaving Queensborough Plaza). But when it comes to running a streetcar through LIC and Astoria to connect with Brooklyn, it’s just not there yet. 

Continue reading “City: Sunnyside Yards yes, BQX maybe later”

City announces Sunnyside Yards planning team, hears hell from JVB, Nolan

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The city is officially moving forward on developing a neighborhood over the Sunnyside Yards by launching a master planning process this summer. The Economic Development Corporation announced today that Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of economic development and Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak, which owns most of the space, signed a letter of intent to collaborate on the plan. The EDC’s announcement confirms Crain’s New York Business’ March 29 report that urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti will be heading the master plan team. But more people are involved! Cali Williams, an EDC vice president for the last decade, now has the title: director of Sunnyside Yard. And a steering committee headed by Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership and Sharon Greenberger, head of the YMCA for Greater New York (what?) will be consulting on the plan. But wait… what about elected officials who don’t want this to happen? 

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district spans both the LIC and Sunnyside sides of the yards, has been vocal against this project. How the EDC and mayor’s office will be able to push this ahead without the support from the 26th city council rep, I’m really not sure. The yards would have to be rezoned to allow residential development and super tall buildings, something the council member would have to approve. Sunnyside Post reported shortly after the EDC’s announcement today that JVB and State Rep. Catherine Nolan, who also opposes the plan, complained the city went around them on this. Well of course. 

Continue reading “City announces Sunnyside Yards planning team, hears hell from JVB, Nolan”

Crain’s: City selects team for Sunnyside Yards master plan

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A figure from the city’s 2017 feasibility report on the Sunnyside Yards project shows a full neighborhood of high-rises spread across the site.

Crain’s New York reported Thursday that sources say the city has tapped architect and urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti to lead up the design plan for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s major development proposal for the Sunnyside Yards. The Crain’s story comes one year after the city released a report on the potentiality of decking over the vast train yards, projecting the endeavor could cost $16-19 billion, involving 14,000 to 24,000 market rate apartments and 4,200 to 7,200 apartments counted as affordable. Since the mayor announced his plan for building housing over the swath of land in his 2015 State of the City address, little has been mentioned by the city about the project other than last year’s study. 

The site, which according to last year’s report could include residential buildings 15 to 69 stories high and office buildings 18 to 44 stories, would expand on the growing Long Island City skyline and would constitute a new sub-neighborhood within Western Queens. Some dissidents have suggested the sudden volume of new people could have an overwhelming impact on the areas transit, schools and rents. Crain’s says the city won’t likely be able to act on a master plan until after BDB’s term ends in 2021.

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