The city has unveiled a massive plan to deck over Sunnyside Yard to make space for 12,000 affordable apartments in Queens.
A sweeping master plan for the project details a new development—which would take decades to complete—would include 100 percent affordable apartments across 140 acres of land. Some 115 acres of the land would be created by "decking over" the top of the regional rail yard.
The city sees Sunnyside Yard development as a "once-in-a-century opportunity" to bring thousands of new apartments to Queens, which currently gains 4,000 new residents every year, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants landing in Queens in the past several decades, according to the executive summary.
"If the borough is to remain an inclusive home to New Yorkers of all backgrounds, then it is imperative to plan for its future growth," according to the plan.
Of the 12,000 apartments, half would be for very low-income families, about 30 to 50 percent of the area median income (currently $29,000 to $48,000 annual salary for a family of three.) The units would be rent-stabilized.
The other 6,000 would be for moderate-income households through a "21st century version" of the Mitchell-Lama housing program, allowing for home ownership.
By decking over about 80 percent of the rail yard, allowing for rail operations to continue below, the project is seen as way of "creating" new land for housing, schools, libraries, and connecting neighborhoods currently separated by the yard. About 780 trains run through Sunnyside Yard everyday.
"We're running out of land in New York City, and it is harder and harder to find places for real affordable housing," the head of the EDC, James Patchett, told the Wall Street Journal. The total cost of decking, streetscape changes, and structures for utilities and below-deck train operations would be about $14.4 billion, according to the newspaper.
Up to 12 schools, three libraries, and 30 healthcare centers would be built. A new subway station on a future subway line, a rail station with Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains, and a bus rapid transit line are also part of the master plan. It is designed with environmental sustainability in mind—with shorter blocks to "prioritize pedestrians and cyclists" and "access to 80 percent of one's daily needs within a 20-minute walk."
One of the first steps in the process is for Amtrak, MTA, the City of New York, and other local representatives to form a non-profit governance entity, which will then lead to an additional community engagement process.
The first of three phases of the construction would include a new Sunnyside rail station for LIRR and Metro-North, 1.9 million square feet of decking, 3,800 affordable homes, as well as research and education, office, and open space. Each phase would take about a decade to finish, though a specific timeline has not yet been revealed.
The early stages of the proposal date back to 2014, when Amtrak first approached the city about decking possibilities. Since summer 2018, the EDC has sought input at public meetings regarding a master plan. At one of those meetings last fall, protesters raised fears the quasi-public entity would instead move forward on an upscale development such as Hudson Yards, which got nearly $6 billion in government subsidies.
The Justice for All Coalition—a group of Astoria and Long Island City residents that has been fighting against the Sunnyside Yard megaproject—signaled continued skepticism in a Facebook post encouraging others to attend a Queens Community Board 2 meeting Thursday night.
The Long Island City Partnership President Elizabeth Lusskin, who co-chairs a steering committee for Sunnyside Yard, said in a statement the "preliminary framework" responds to western Queens' existing needs and future growth.
"As we move into the next phase of the project, community input will continue to be the key to ensuring that Sunnyside Yard lives up to its potential and meets the diverse and growing needs of the people and businesses based here," she said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, said in a tweet that she was "glad to see" 100 percent affordable housing, transit, and open space prioritized.