Last Wednesday, officials from the Economic Development Corporation and Amtrak announced that they will create a master plan to form a vision for the project and identify potential first phases of development. The process will start this summer and last 18 months.
EDC has hired a slew of consultants for the project, led by Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU). The team of 12 consulting firms will work on various aspects of the plan, including structural and rail engineering, landscape architecture, financing and public engagement.
The city agency has also appointed a new director of Sunnyside Yard to oversee the project. Cali Williams, a fifth generation New Yorker who holds a master’s in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has worked at EDC for the last 10 years.
“This is a complicated project with many moving pieces and partners,” Williams said, “and is deserving of one point person at EDC.”
To help guide the master planning process, EDC has also formed a steering committee, made up of two dozen community leaders and planning experts. The committee is led by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and Amtrak Chair Tony Coscia.
It will be co-chaired by Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, and Sharon Greenberger, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York.
Other members include Denise Keehan-Smith, chair of Community Board 2, Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, and Sylvia White, co-chair of the Justice for All Coalition.
According to EDC officials, the steering committee will help establish priorities for long-term planning. Local leaders, who make up half of the committee, will ensure community priorities are met.
The steering committee will meet quarterly.
“We’ve been very purposeful to include a diverse set of local stakeholders with diverse perspectives,” Williams said. “We see Sunnyside Yard as an opportunity to meet a lot of the goals of the local stakeholders, whether it be open space, schools, affordable housing or transportation improvements.”
The latest update on Sunnyside Yard comes more than a year after EDC released its feasibility study, where experts concluded that 80 to 85 percent of the site could be capped to build housing.
The project could create up to 24,000 new housing units, open space, new schools, retail and community facilities.
According to initial estimates, the project could cost up to $19 billion.
On Wednesday, EDC officials said the Sunnyside Yard project is an opportunity to address the city’s growing population and the infrastructure issues that come with growth, such as strains on schools, parks and mass transit.
Over the next two decades, New York City is anticipated to grow by 500,000 people, reaching a population of 9 million. Roughly 80,000 more residents will live in Queens alone.
“If we don’t plan for the future, they’ll only become bigger challenges,” said Anthony Hogrebe, senior vice president for public affairs at EDC.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a vision for the yard,” Williams added.
Officials said there have been proposals to build over the yard since it was built in 1910. But none of them worked out because the yard is owned by several entities, including Amtrak, the MTA and the city, which has air rights over parts of Sunnyside Yard.
Anthony Navarro, director of the Gateway Program for Amtrak, said they have their own master plan for 2030, which includes looking at how to reconfigure the yard. Amtrak owns 140 of the 180 acres at Sunnyside Yard.
“Now is the perfect time, working with the city and EDC, for Amtrak to meet our operational demands,” he said, “with an eye toward, how do we create and develop this site?”
Critics of the Sunnyside Yard development proposal fear the project would displace longtime residents of the area. Others have raised concerns about additional stress on infrastructure like the overcrowded 7 train.
EDC officials responded that as the city population continues to grow, Sunnyside Yard would create not only affordable housing, but other infrastructure to keep Queens a “family-oriented borough.”
“When we look at the numbers of population growth projections, sometimes you think of that as just people moving here from other places,” Hogrebe said. “We look at that and we think a lot of that is people who live here right now. Their children and grandchildren want to stay in Queens and the neighborhoods they love.
“If we do nothing, it is going to continue to get harder and harder for them to do that,” he added. “It’s going to continue to get less and less affordable.”
In a statement, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said she was disappointed that Glen did not reach out to her for input, considering Nolan has represented the area for more than three decades.
“It is shocking to see community voices denied in this process at the very beginning,” she said. “I commend the many talented leaders on this group, but it must be more diverse and reflective of our western Queens community.”
Nolan insisted that elected officials be able to recommend not only elected officials to the steering committee, but also local residents and businesses.
An EDC spokesperson responded in a statement that all local elected officials were invited to participate in the steering committee.
“The master planning process will include many opportunities for elected and stakeholder engagement,” the spokesperson said. “It’s our goal to ensure that the many diverse communities surrounding Sunnyside Yard have a seat at the table in the planning and visioning process.”