Seize the opportunity in Sunnyside Yards

The opportunity to create a new neighborhood is a rare occurrence in NYC. Too often, we’re trying to build up, squeeze in or put too much on the too little open space left.

Then there’s Sunnyside Yards.

It’s as much as 200 acres of rail yards where anything might be possible.

But we can’t know for sure until the city’s Economic Development Corp. releases its overdue feasibility study, work the agency began in August 2015. Little has been heard from the agency since.

In February 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio first suggested the ambitious idea of building above the Sunnyside Yards, with 11,250 units of affordable housing as the centerpiece. But de Blasio is far from the first to turn to Sunnyside Yards. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller wanted to deck over the yards more than 50 years ago.

When de Blasio raised the idea, Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed it, saying the MTA, which controls a slice of the land, needed the property for work related to its LIRR East Side Access project. But Amtrak owns most of the yards and is generally supportive.

The EDC’s study not only will outline the site’s potential, but it also will delve into what’s financially viable and what would be necessary to make such development a reality. There are scores of challenges and questions, including the unknown expense involved in just decking the yards (Hudson Yards in Manhattan cost about $800 million to deck). Then there’s the impact on public transit, utilities, schools and more. The vast project would have to include more than housing to address the influx of residents, from schools and shops to parking and parks.

The agency has to release its findings soon or provide an update to explain more delays. If the study determines that building is feasible, city officials have to get early buy-in from community members and local politicians. Often, de Blasio’s big ideas face unnecessary roadblocks when officials don’t communicate with stakeholders early or well.

This effort, where a neighborhood could rise above the rails, is too big and too important to tolerate that mistake.


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