NEW YORK I Sunnyside Yards

Amtrak weighing development of massive Queens rail yard

By Ryan Hutchins on October 23, 2014

Amtrak is considering developing Sunnyside Yards in Queens as part of a nationwide evaluation of its real estate portfolio and could turn to investors as early as next spring to find partners willing to explore potential uses for those properties, the company’s chairman, Anthony Coscia, said Thursday.

Executives have been in talks with the de Blasio and Cuomo administrations about the site, Coscia told reporters at a global real estate conference at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Coscia mentioned the plans during a panel discussion moderated by former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff.

The Sunnyside Yards is one the largest undeveloped parcels in New York City and holds virtually limitless potential to developers willing to build a platform above the tracks. Planners have long dreamed about what could be built on the property, which remains an active rail yard used by several train companies.

It was unclear on Thursday exactly what Amtrak would pursue, whether it would sell or lease the development rights or how involved it would remain in any project undertaken on the site. There are additional development sites the company is discussing in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“We’ve completed an analysis of what we think we’re going to need for the operating business,” Coscia said after the panel at the Urban Land Institute’s fall conference. “Obviously, it doesn’t make any sense for us to sell real estate that we’re going to need to run the railroad. So, we’ve pretty much completed that and what we’re doing between now and March is trying to determine—after subtracting those needs—what sort of developable real estate sites we have that are available that we can monetize.”

Sunnyside, he said, is the perfect example of the type of site on which Amtrak believes it can make a considerable amount of money. There have been conversations about the site between Amtrak executives and Mayor Bill de Blasio, deputy mayor Alicia Glen and chief of staff Laura Santucci, Coscia said.

A spokesman for the mayor said building on the yards could fit in to the city’s ambitious affordable housing plan—which calls for construction of 80,000 affordable units over the next decade—but cautioned nothing is imminent.

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State of the City lacks Cuomo support on key elements

By Matthew Chayes/Newsday on February 4, 2015

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday shot down a part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for hundreds of thousands of units of more affordable housing.

Just hours after de Blasio mentioned in his State of the City address a proposal to build 11,250 units above the sprawling Sunnyside rail yard, Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa dismissed the site as "not available."

“The MTA uses Sunnyside Yards as an important facility for our transportation system, and it is not available for any other use in the near term,” she said in a written statement, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which Cuomo controls.

The address’ focus on more affordable housing – a $41 billion initiative to build or preserve 200,000 units of below-market-rate units over a decade – suggests that de Blasio would make it a major focus of his second year in office.

“While the state of our city is strong,” de Blasio said, “if we fail to be a city for everyone, we risk losing what makes New York New York. We risk the very soul of this place.”

De Blasio said that while gentrification has some benefits, it risks pushing longtime residents out of their neighborhoods.

Other areas targeted by de Blasio for denser development include East New York in Brooklyn; Long Island City and Flushing West in Queens; downtown Staten Island and the Jerome Avenue Corridor in the Bronx.

Amtrak, which owns about 113 of the roughly 200-acre Sunnyside site, is enthusiastic about the plan, the de Blasio administration says. Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said the railway supports the mayor’s "strong interest in advancing affordable housing."

The MTA owns 66 acres; the city owns air rights to 44 of those acres. The city can build above the tracks provided there isn’t interference with train operations, the administration says.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said the city would be commissioning a study soon to assess the viability of the plan.

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Mayor to guv: ‘Plenty of room’ at Sunnyside Yards

By Andrew J. Hawkins on February 4, 2015
The whale-shaped Sunnyside Yards in Queens is at the center of a development fight between the mayor and the governor. Photo by Courtesy of the NYC Mayor’s Office

…Less than an hour after Mr. de Blasio proposed a massive residential development at Sunnyside Yards, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cuomo released a statement calling the site “an important facility for our transportation system” that is “not available for any other use in the near term.”

Mr. Cuomo reiterated his concerns in a Wednesday interview with NY1. “Sunnyside Yards is problematic,” he said. “But I agree with the mayor’s overall thrust [on housing] and I applaud him for it.”

The governor isn’t the only one expressing doubt about the project. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the site, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that he would “never” support the construction of high-density housing in the portion of the rail yards buttressing the Sunnyside neighborhood.

Late Tuesday, Amtrak released a statement saying, “We are working with the city and others to understand what potential exists for this incredibly unique site and recognize and support the mayor’s strong interest in advancing affordable housing as part of any major new development.”

Nothing will happen soon. Amtrak has said it doesn’t expect to conduct a feasibility study until 2016. And the cost of decking over the site could be enormous. Constructing a platform over a portion of the much smaller 26-acre Hudson Yards in western Manhattan is expected to cost upward of $700 million.
After the State of the City speech Tuesday, the mayor’s aides acknowledged the long road ahead for the project.


Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed’s series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, Kensinger visits the in-the-news Sunnyside Yards.

In the past few weeks, the Sunnyside Yards has received an inordinate amount of attention from politicians and press, after being referenced as a possible development site for future megaprojects. Described as “a giant bowl of spaghetti,” this vast Queens train yard was included as one of the central proposals in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City address, where he called for a platform to be built over the yards holding 11,250 new affordable apartments. Not to be outdone, Governor Cuomo soon responded by giving support to a different proposal for a new convention center above the tracks. Based on their enthusiasm for these projects, it remains doubtful that either politician has personally explored the entire complicated reality of this 180-acre rail yard.

A circumnavigation of the Sunnyside Yards on foot reveals how huge and complex any plan to build above it would be. Almost two miles long, the perimeter of the yard is surrounded by elaborate fences and intersected by numerous bridges, but its day-to-day operations are largely hidden from public view. What few vantage points there are show a multi-layered system where LIRR, NJ Transit, Amtrak and MTA trains wind and weave above and below ground, enmeshed in a web of power lines and ancillary tracks. Meanwhile, an equally diverse array of neighborhoods borders the edges of the yard, ranging from the post-industrial side streets of Long Island City to the still-industrial warehouses of Sunnyside and the charming residences of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District.

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Keep on the Sunnyside

By Sarina Trangle on March 24, 2015

A slew of affordable housing is not the only transformative element brewing at Sunnyside Yards.

While announcing his intention to deck over the 200-acre rail yard in Queens and construct a mixed-use development atop it, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described the proposed creation of 11,250 affordable homes as “game changing.” At the same time, the city appears to be considering an equally innovative funding mechanism for the Sunnyside Yards initiative called value capture financing (VCF), which uses the revenue anticipated from an infrastructure investment to finance the project.

But just like the affordable housing plans for the site, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo was quick to shoot down, the funding scheme is a big question mark. While VCF can open up revenue streams for municipalities otherwise limited by capital plans and debt ceilings, it can be risky if forecasted revenues don’t materialize and the government is saddled with larger interest payments and debt.

Some point to Manhattan’s Hudson Yards development as evidence of the risks. The project, located on the far West Side, was VCF’s major debut in New York City. To help fund it, the city backed bonds for a No. 7 subway line extension with projected increases in property taxes and fees.

“Hudson Yards has not been successful,” said David King, assistant professor of architecture, planning and preservation at Columbia University. “That’s a lot of investment that went into expanding the system for land development that’s not showing up … and that’s money that the city cannot or will not spend elsewhere on the transit system.”

Nonetheless, the city’s recent request for proposal (RFP) to study the feasibility of decking over all or part of Sunnyside Yards called for research on the success VCF at Hudson Yards and other sites as well as for a recommendation on its viability in Queens. The RFP does not explicitly state whether the value would come from an upscale development with affordable units, new transit or other infrastructure improvements. But local politicians have made it clear de Blasio’s vision is a non-starter without linking transit investment—and said that the administration is aware of this.


City guides Sunnyside Yard review in increasingly progressive Queens

A few miles east of where a progressive wave in Queens has swamped a proposed housing and retail development, city officials are gathering final community feedback on a development plan for a lot six times larger than Hudson Yards.

That would be Sunnyside Yard, the 180-acre train yard where the city believes a deck could allow the building of thousands of apartments.

City Limits published an update of the planning process for the site Wednesday. The team of roughly two dozen planners, community members and consultants that the city Economic Development Corp. convened to review the project are about two-thirds through the 18-month development of a master plan.

The city expects the master plan to provide more detailed options for how to build a deck over the majority of the western Queens rail yard. A 2017 feasibility study from the city estimated that the land could host 24,000 apartments, along with schools, parks and other infrastructure, for a cost of about $19 billion. That could take a half-century or more to fully build. The city has said it wants a long-term plan in place to ensure that Amtrak, which owns most of the yard, can take the blueprint into consideration as it upgrades its own facilities.

EDC officials have made an effort to hear out residents, including launching an informational session and hosting public listening sessions and workshops. Those events have been well attended, City Limits noted, with residents pushing for 100% affordable-housing and low- to mid-rise buildings for any new development on the land.

But some prominent Queens politicians are questioning whether residents will be heard. Both Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and a spokesperson for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were critical of the outreach efforts in interviews with the publication. :angry:

“I don’t like what EDC is proposing for Sunnyside Yard,” Van Bramer told City Limits. “There are certainly listening sessions run by EDC, but it remains to be seen if people are really being heard.”

The city has described the project as the chance for a critical capital investment in a borough expected to grow by 80,000 people in the next 20 years. The EDC plans to host another public meeting sometime in the fall, with the master plan published in the winter. :slight_smile:


I hope by the time its built NYC has a more competent mayor than DeBlasio :neutral_face:


Amen to that.

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At least deBlasio believes in building more housing, both income-restricted and market-rate, to alleviate the city’s housing shortage.

Ocasio-Cortez and Van Bramer want to shut down all development.

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I don’t think you have it right apophenic. They would be delighted to approve projects with housing available across the economic spectrum. They just don’t like focusing on or subsidizing the rich. That’s a perfectly legitimate position. Those most in need have long been underfunded—since the Reagan years.

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I hope this doesn’t take 50 years to build though.


I’m not aware of any project in NYC that “focuses on subsidizing the rich”. Basically every project does the exact opposite, given the city’s tax structure and inclusionary housing laws. And obviously these NIMBYs hate all development, period. If it were 100% low income housing they would protest too.

The only way to fix the issue is eliminate the Community Boards, or completely neuter their power. They’re a cancer. They have nothing to do with the “community”, they’re a dumping ground for toadies and sycophants of the political machine.

The horrible, selfish Gail Brewers of the world derive their power from this machine. They need to be stopped if this city is ever going to improve its housing stock.


Craw dad—Subsidies aren’t as visible with upper class housing as they are with below market housing but they are often present. TDRs can operate as support. And even “incentives” to build inclusive housing can operate that way by providing more FAR than is needed to build the below market stuff in the development. I could go on at length about this. But let’s leave it this way: The most efficient way to build below market housing is for the government to build it (hopefully in a mixed income development) and cut out the middlemen.

The latest:

It’s definitely a downgrade. Will be a huge, modern day housing project. What a wasted opportunity.

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Hopefully these are just placeholder designs and the architecture will be less generic. This is a chance to make a place where there wasn’t anything. How about they try and make it look like New York.

I wish the time line would be shorter. Folks praise the units but a few things. Its underwhelming, and for the amount of units present, the time length will not do one iota to help this housing crisis. Supply that will be delivered with an absurd time table. It will literally not help at all. In other places, this would of been 50k+ units.

I’d be happy with a time table similar to Atlantic Yards versus 40-50+ years.

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