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Assemblywoman adds attorney to staff because of de Blasio’s proposal for Yards

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As Mayor de Blasio pushes his Sunnyside Yards affordable housing megaproject forward, one elected official is warning that “this is a critical time for our neighborhoods in western Queens.” State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) announced Feb. 19 that Ira Greenberg, an attorney from Sunnyside Gardens, has joined her staff to work on transportation, housing and zoning issues related to the threat of over-development in western Queens.

“I look forward to having Ira Greenberg as a part-time counsel in my office as we face the challenges in preserving our communities,” Nolan said. “Keeping our neighborhoods strong in the face of ongoing development pressures is a priority of mine. Having someone with Ira Greenberg’s skills and experience will help my office and our community.”

The city Economic Development Corporation formally issued a request for proposals last Friday for a year-long comprehensive assessment of building at Sunnyside Yards, and to provide recommendations as to whether the implementation of such a project is feasible.

De Blasio has proposed building 11,250 units of affordable apartments atop a deck built over the rail yards despite objections from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The study will look at the 113 acres owned by Amtrak, and another 44 acres that are owned by the MTA.

“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it can contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to deliver on our vision of a more affordable city, and smart development that responds to the needs of surrounding neighborhoods. We are excited to be working with partners like Amtrak and local stakeholders on a thoughtful and thorough review that gives us facts we can build on.”

The Feasibility Study will include an evaluation of specific factors such as existing and planned configuration of the rail yards, ongoing requirements to maintain and accommodate future rail operations, geotechnical conditions, requirements and limitations of proposed deck structures, infrastructure and utility conditions both on- and off-site, and financial feasibility.

On Tuesday, Nolan amped up her message, saying, “I remain concerned that any attempt by Mayor de Blasio’s administration to develop Sunnyside Yards faces environmental, developmental and density issues that have the potential to tremendously damage the middle-class quality of life of our western Queens communities. I will be vigilant in monitoring the actions of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and will continue to demand that the mayor hear the voices of the many tax paying, middle-class New Yorkers who live in western Queens. The character of Queens would change completely with additional high-rise, overbuilt towers. I await more news from the administration and will continue to monitor this situation very closely.”

She added, “I have serious concerns about the Sunnyside Yards proposals and know we need community input and review.”

Nolan said Greenberg would work with agencies, residents and all parties to make sure our local voice is heard. She pointed out Greenberg will be in the office to respond to any new proposals while she is at work in Albany.

Greenberg, who has lived in Sunnyside or Woodside his whole life, and currently lives in Sunnyside Gardens with his wife and two children, is keenly aware of the rising level of anxiety in the neighborhood. One community activist, Patricia Dorfman of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, is planning to make T-shirts that say “Queens Lives Matter” to capture the sense of unease that is coarsing through the neighborhood. “It may seem insensitive to those with life and death grievances, but “Queens Lives Matter’ sums up the problem for me,” Dorfman said.

Greenberg, who was president of the chamber for three years, said, “People are nervous despite the fact that construction would be many years away. One thing I do know is if they spend an exorbitant amount of money just to build a deck over the yards, they’re going to have to get their money back and that means thousands more units in much bigger buildings. And let’s remember, Amtrak and the MTA aren’t just going to give that land away for free.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 5:11 pm, February 26, 2015
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