Queens Residents Protest Plan for Mammoth Luxury Development

 About 100 people rallied in Queens Nov. 25 to stop the plan to build an enormous luxury development over the Sunnyside railyards. Chanting “EDC—go away!” and “Stop Sunnyside Yards,” the tenants and activists from Woodside on the Move, the Justice for All Coalition, Stop Sunnyside Yards, and other community groups made it clear that they have had enough luxury development in Queens. 

The plan, called “Sunnyside Yard” by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, proposes building the development on a giant platform over one of the busiest train yards in the country. It would be six to seven times larger than the Hudson Yards luxury development on Manhattan’s West Side, which was also built over a railyard. The platform would likely loom three stories above the neighborhood. 

“STOP using public money to assist the 1% in creating luxury development that displaces, gentrifies, burdens, and discriminates against all but the wealthy,” the organizers said in a statement endorsed by over 40 community organizations, including Met Council. “We call on you to allocate the tens of billions of dollars intended to develop the yards instead to restore public housing, repair and expand our crumbling infrastructure, save small businesses, and restore habitability for all.”

They also called for a moratorium “on all major new developments and rezonings.”

Amtrak owns most of the 180-acre yard, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns part, and the city has air rights. The firm the EDC hired to design its “master plan” (expected to be released early next year) is headed by Vishaan Chakrabarti, who helped mastermind the planning of Hudson Yards under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

The protesters accused the EDC of working for developers and not the surrounding communities, and of holding sham public meetings where the premise of the project was never allowed to be questioned, community opposition was swept under the rug, and EDC representatives evaded answering questions about how much the project would cost, and how many of the tens of thousands of new apartments would have rents low enough for local residents to afford. 

The EDC has estimated the development would cost $22 billion. However, the significantly smaller Hudson Yards cost $25 billion, including $20 billion for the platform. 

The city would most likely pay for the platform, with the idea that future tax revenues would reimburse it for the public funds used. But in order to collect enough revenue to cover those costs, the towers built on the platform would likely have to charge primarily luxury rents. 

An EDC feasibility study in 2017 estimated that the site could hold 14,000 to 24,000 apartments. It projected that 30 percent of them would be permanently “affordable.” Under the de Blasio administration’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing guidelines, that would allow charging higher rents than setting aside only 25 percent. The most likely scenario, based on 80 percent of the metropolitan area median income, at current levels would mean “affordable” rents of about $1,495 a month for a single person and $1,920 for a family of three. Another option would have two-thirds of the “affordable” units go to households making up to 115 percent of AMI, or about $2,760 rent for a family of three. 

The market-rate units, the EDC predicted, would rent or sell at prices comparable to those for luxury units in new Long Island City developments. 

What impact would this have on the middle- and low-income immigrant communities of western Queens that surround the site? Rents for residents, mom-and-pop businesses, artists, and jobs-producing manufacturers would rise through the roof—and the result would be even more displacement, homelessness, and destruction of community cultures.