Community Land Trust Considered for Sunnyside Yards Master Plan

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Activists disrupt Sunnyside Yards meeting at Aviation High School.

At a rowdy third* public meeting for the Sunnyside Yards master plan, the new head of the planning team, Adam Grossman Meagher, said the team is considering a public land trust as part of the financing scheme.

“You can imagine part of this that’s created through traditional means,” Grossman Meagher said. “You can also imagine,” he said, part of the site as a community land trust.

A CLT is a community-based non-profit that owns the land, allowing residents to control the use, and are used to maintain affordability. There has been a CLT movement and a push in the city council.

The idea of a public land trust has been on the lists of demands by activists who’ve made their presence felt at the master plan community outreach meetings throughout the year.

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EDC’s Adam Grossman Meagher (right), LIC Partnership president, Elizabeth Lusskin (red dress) and a man guarding the door from protesters.

Protesters were a major part of this third general public meeting, holding an Occupy-style mic-check demonstration in the middle of the event. The lead protestor led the disruption from a table in the Aviation High School cafeteria where poster boards were on display around the periphery. The 50 or so participants in the call-and-response eventually targeted a small side-room where Grossman Meagher and lead consultant Vishaan Chakrabarti were leading a presentation on the emerging master plan. The protesters were not allowed inside but after they chanted a demand for entry, Grossman Meagher mentioned the CLT discussions off-handedly.

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A look at how the Master Plan is beginning to shape up.

Asked (to confirm) if the Economic Development Corporation was discussing the possibility of a CLT, Grossman Meagher said “yes,” and that the idea was on one of the poster boards. I couldn’t find the idea on the poster boards except for one board of a list of ideas heard by participants at public meetings.

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Sunnyside Yards BINGO? (Bottom left corner: CLT)

The team plans to have another meeting later this year and a master plan ready by sometime in winter. At this third general meeting, some ideas of how the plan is shaping up were on display. Check out those images in the slideshow below.

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*This was corrected: the EDC held the third, not fourth general public SSY master plan meeting.

“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”

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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