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Phipps Seeks to Develop 7-Story Building in Sunnyside, City Planning Certifies Plans

Rendering of Phipps’ current plan for 50-25 Barnett Ave.

Oct. 13, 2020 By Christian Murray

Phipps Houses has filed plans to rezone its Barnett Avenue property and build a seven-story, 167-unit building.

The non-profit developer applied for a zoning change earlier this year and the application was certified by the Dept. of City Planning on Oct. 5– officially kicking off the public review process. Phipps needs to rezone its site from manufacturing to residential in order to proceed with the project that would go up at 50-25 Barnett Ave.

The plans call for a mixed use building on the north side of Barnett Avenue between 50th and 52nd streets. The building would consist of 167 units that would all be deemed affordable–subject to income restrictions. The units would be 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and there would be no studios.

The development would also include room for a community facility as well as 170 attended parking spaces, of which 111 would be made available for the public.

The application comes four years after Phipps abandoned a more ambitious rezoning plan for the site after facing fierce community opposition.

The current plans are about to go before Community Board 2 for review. The board is expected to hold a public hearing in November before it renders an advisory opinion. The plans will then go to the Queens Borough President’s office, the City Planning Commission and then the city council for a vote. The whole public review process is expected to take about seven months.

The proposal is smaller than what Phipps put forward in 2016, when it sought a rezoning to build a 10-story, 209-unit building. The units in that plan would have all been affordable, although at higher income brackets.

The affordable units in Phipps’ latest plan would target households earning significantly less.

For instance, half the units in its current application would be for households that make no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income. A quarter of the units would be for households that make up to 90 percent of AMI with the remaining quarter for households that make up to 110 percent.

2020 New York City Area AMI

In 2016, 20 percent of the units were targeted for households earning below 50 percent of AMI; 30 percent below 100 percent AMI; and 50 percent for households that made up to 130 percent of the AMI.

The criticism in 2016 largely dealt with the income levels of the affordable units– deemed too high– and the scale of the proposed 10-story building.

The property, which is adjacent to the Long Island Railroad, is currently used as a parking lot, and has room for about 220 vehicles. Many residents at the 472-unit Phipps Gardens Apartment complex nearby use it since that complex does not include on-site parking.

Some residents opposed the plan in 2016, fearing that they would struggle to find parking if the site is developed.

There were advocates for the project in 2016 who saw a need for affordable housing, although they were in the minority. Many of the supporters were residents with young children.

But the overwhelming majority were in opposition to it with thousands signing petitions against it.

50-25 Barnett Ave, where Phipps Houses plans to build a 167-unit development (Photo: Queens Post)

The plans were rejected by Community Board 2 and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, when both provided an advisory opinion. The proposal, however, was approved by the City Planning Commission by a vote of 12-0.

Phipps withdrew its plans when Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer made clear that he would not support it and that it would be nixed by the council.

“Ten stories is out of character and inconsistent with the rest of the neighborhood,” Van Bramer told the Queens Post at the time, also noting that the income levels for the affordable units were too high.

“It’s across the street from the existing Phipps [Phipps Garden Apartments], which would be dwarfed by this. Just because you are progressive and believe in affordable housing doesn’t mean that every single affordable housing project is right for every single proposed location,” Van Bramer said in 2016.

The city council typically defers to the member who represents the district where a rezoning is proposed to determine its fate.

Lisa Deller, chair of Community Board 2, said that the new plans indicate that Phipps listened to the public’s feedback in 2016 by reducing the scale of the plan and lowering the income levels.

“They have made a number of changes to the prior proposal that can be seen as positive,” Deller said, adding that a public hearing is likely to be held in November. “I look forward to hearing what people have to say.”

Van Bramer also noted that the plans have been modified and said he is reviewing the latest plans.

“The proposal has changed, and we are taking a look at it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.

Rendering of the 10-story, 209-unit plan in 2016

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