Hosted at LaGuardia Community College last Wednesday night, the workshop-style event invited attendees to give their thoughts about neighborhood needs, top priorities and other concerns in western Queens.
Cali Williams, director of the Sunnyside Yard project at the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), said the city will host at least four public meetings in total to collect feedback from people who live and work in the area.
“This is a generational, historic planning effort we just started earlier this summer to come up with a vision for this site,” she said. “We will take the input that we hear and come back with a draft plan.”
EDC has begun its 18-month process to create a master plan for Sunnyside Yard, with the goal of forming a vision for the project and identifying initial phases of development.
A team of consultants, led by Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), will work on the master plan, including engineering, financing and public engagement.
The master plan will be guided by a steering committee, made up of elected officials, community leaders, and content and thought experts. Consultants and steering committee members were at the meeting last week to talk to residents.
Williams said there’s nothing set in stone yet for Sunnyside Yard, and that city officials are listening to local stakeholders about what they’d like to see at railyard.
“This is a true public process,” she said. “There’s no set plan here.”
At 180 acres, Sunnyside Yard is 20 percent bigger than Roosevelt Island and Battery Park City. It’s six times bigger than Hudson Yard.
EDC’s feasibility study concluded that up to 85 percent of the railyard could be capped to build 24,000 new housing units, open space, new schools and retail and community facilities.
Amtrak owns 140 of the 180 acres, and the rest is owned by the MTA and private entities. The city has the air rights above the MTA portion.
“Any development here would be built over many decades,” Williams said. “We’re thinking not just about what people living in the surrounding neighborhoods need in the near term, but also what our children and grandchildren will need in the future.”
The size of the project has concerned anti-gentrification activists, such as Josselyn Atahualpa, a Jackson Heights resident and organizer with Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU). The group recently defeated a rezoning effort at 82nd Street in Elmhurst, and is also weary of Amazon and other corporations setting up shop in the borough.
From the conversations she’s had with people, Atahualpa said they don’t “trust this process.”
“They always come in and say, 'we don’t have a plan laid out,' but in fact, they do,” she said. “Everything is super calculated.”
Jay, a Sunnyside resident and member of QNU, noted that some elected officials have already pitched Long Island City as a tech hub of the future. He said the tech industry has turned cities like San Francisco and Seattle into cities that are no longer affordable.
“If this development goes in, it’ll have a trickle-down effect where neighborhoods will see their rents increase,” he said. “This is the same type of plan.
“This is a calling card for all the anti-gentrification activists in all the boroughs,” he added. “We need to come together to shut this project down.”
Jonathan Bailey, who lives in Woodside, expressed similar doubts and concerns about Sunnyside Yard. He said the debate about the project should center on gentrification and displacement, and added that other city-led projects like the LIC core rezoning and Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar are all part of that wave.
Like Jay, Bailey noted how San Francisco has become overwhelmed with homelessness and expressed fear that New York City will follow suit.
“If we don’t take it seriously, it’s going to result in more homelessness for families in Queens,” he said. “I personally want to do everything that I can to prevent that.”
Bailey added that it’s clear to him that the city’s mind us already made up.
“It’s clear that the decision has already been made,” he said.
Others at the public meeting came to the event with a different mindset about the project. Long Island City resident Dan Ferrante said while he usually favors development over nothing, he wanted to see what the city wants to do with the railyard.
“I think the growth of Long Island City is such that they’re going to have to increase capacity tremendously on a system that is already strained,” he said.
When asked how the project may affect surrounding neighborhoods, Ferrante said the gentrification train has “left the yard.”
“The rents in the city are sprawling out from where they were most expensive and concentrated, and now they’re sprawling out to the outer neighborhoods,” he said. “I don’t think anything can stop that.”