City unveils vision for gargantuan Sunnyside Yard project

Plan calls for $14 billion deck and 12,000 units of affordable housing

TRD New York /
Mar.March 03, 2020 03:50 PM
Mayor Bill de Blasio, James Patchett  (de Blasio by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images; Patchett by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images; rendering via Sunnyside Yard)

Mayor Bill de Blasio, EDC President James Patchett and a rendering of the Sunnyside Yard project (de Blasio by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images; Patchett by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images; rendering via Sunnyside Yard)

The de Blasio administration and Amtrak on Tuesday released a plan for 12,000 affordable housing units above Sunnyside Yard.

The master plan, which is preliminary, calls for the decking over of 115 acres of active rail yard to accommodate construction of rent-stabilized homes offered through a program modeled after Mitchell-Lama.

Six thousand apartments would be set aside for families earning less than 50 percent of the area median income. The other half of the units would be available for purchase by families within a certain income range.

The total price tag of the project is not yet known, but the platform over the rail yard is estimated to cost $14.4 billion. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of the plan.

For decades, New York officials have kicked around the idea of building on top of Sunnyside Yard, a 200-acre, 1.75-mile-long rail yard between Long Island City and Sunnyside.

In the 1960s, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller floated the possibility of building a platform over the rails. It was later considered a potential site for athlete housing for the city’s ill-fated bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff pitched moving the Jacob Javits Convention Center there in 2014, a notion Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed until he opted to expand the existing facility.

In 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed creating 11,250 affordable units on the site. A feasibility study for the project was released in 2017, but the EDC said it lacked adequate input from active users of the rail yard.

An executive summary of the master plan released today notes that it reflects extensive discussions with Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “to find engineering solutions to some of the most difficult technical challenges posed by decking” — which the 2017 study did not.

In 2018, the EDC formed a steering committee to involve stakeholders in the project’s planning. But the agency and committee still drew ire from progressive groups, who called the process undemocratic. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resigned from the committee in January under pressure from the groups, citing the fact that EDC’s plan didn’t adequately reflect community feedback on “truly affordable housing.”

The project, if it ever happens, would not be complete until long after de Blasio leaves office at the end of next year. Questions have been raised about its economics, given the cost of the deck and that political and community opposition to market-rate housing would limit the profit that could be generated to subsidize affordable units.

The website for the master plan notes that it is not a transaction with a developer or a fixed plan, and “not a replica of the overbuilt projects of today.”


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