Sunnyside Yard public meeting taken over by vocal opponents

The Sunnyside Yard development plan calls for decking over the 180-acre yard train yard and building a brand new neighborhood, complete with housing, transportation and stores.  Eagle  photo by Jonathan Sperling.

The Sunnyside Yard development plan calls for decking over the 180-acre yard train yard and building a brand new neighborhood, complete with housing, transportation and stores. Eagle photo by Jonathan Sperling.

By Jonathan Sperling

A public meeting Monday on the controversial Sunnyside Yard planning process featured plenty of community engagement, including dramatic opposition from opponents of proposed mega-development six times larger than Manhattan’s Hudson Yards.

The early portion of the Monday meeting, the third public hearing on the massive development plan, remained calm and organized as attendees milled about information stations. 

But members of Queens Neighborhoods United and other organizations that oppose the project soon took over the room, denouncing the plan to elevate the 180-acre yard from a sprawling network of train tracks to a brand new neighborhood, complete with housing, transportation and stores. Some activists stood atop cafeteria tables to address the attendees.

“These are plans made by property developers, plans for property developers,” said Rutgers University Professor James DeFilippis. 

“We don’t trust this process,” opponents chanted, while others shouted “Let us in,” outside the cafeteria as they tried to enter the meeting.

“#EDC employees didnt know what to do w/ themselves as we took over the #SunnysideYards public EDC meeting. They presented nothing new, nothing solid. #SSY will cost more than the $22 billion and take longer than the 100 years they're projecting. That's our money & public land!,” QNU later wrote on Twitter.

Even before the first public meeting regarding Sunnyside Yard in October 2018, community members raised concerns about displacement and accelerated gentrification related to the neighborhood-building initiative.

“I haven’t come across anyone in Queens who thinks this is a good idea,” steering committee member Melissa Orlando, executive director of Access Queens, told The New York Times last year. Orlando, whose organization advocates for better public transportation, said the project could increase congestion.

A line of people snaked around the schoolyard of Aviation High School in Sunnyside ahead of the meeting, as representatives from a host of city agencies and the New York City Economic Development Corporation prepared to explain the draft of the master plan.

“I’d like to see the creation of the things they say they want to create, essentially liveable neighborhoods, better connections across Queens, transit infrastructure, mixed-income housing, mixed-use development, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods,” Gideon Fink Shapiro, a historian of urban planning and architecture, told the Eagle.

Community members file into the third public meeting regarding the plan to redevelop Sunnyside Yard.

Community members file into the third public meeting regarding the plan to redevelop Sunnyside Yard.

In addition to their ideas for the plan, which has not yet been published, meeting attendees also expressed concerns with about the execution of the project.

“Public space is one that is often promised with large-scale developments, but not often delivered, so I'm interested to hear the vision but also what the prospects are for actually delivering,” Shapiro added.

Before the activism began, attendees encountered a circular presentation about the progress that has been made so far on the master plan. A series of eight educational stations provided information on topics ranging from cost of constructing a deck on top of the yard to living and working within the yard’s area. 

Building a deck on top of most parts of the yard is “very expensive,” according to one presentation station, and the costs could total as much as $2,700 per square foot. The total price of the deck could cost between $16 billion and $19 billion, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the city.

At each station, at least one representative from NYCEDC or another city agency spoke with community members about specific parts of the plan, answered questions and received community input.

Mikelle Adgate, a senior adviser for strategic planning in the Department of Environmental Protection, manned a station regarding the mega development’s impact on climate change and borough resiliency. 

“The folks at EDC are trying to think strategically and critically about what type of planning and mitigation strategies you would want to have baked early on into the plan. Right now, with the design and construction that the city does, we’re always thinking about stormwater, wastewater management, sea level rise and other factors that play into the growth of the city,” Adgate told the Eagle

A spokesperson for the NYCEDC confirmed with the Eagle that there would be a fourth public meeting regarding the yard plan, but a date and location had not been decided yet.