Commentary, Queens

We shouldn’t pay for a deck over the Sunnyside Yards

Mayor de Blasio, the CEO of Amtrak, and the leadership of the Queens Chamber of Commerce want to build a series of decks over the Sunnyside Yards, that would then serve as platforms for new apartments, offices and possibly parks and attractions.  Some of my neighbors have expressed opposition on various grounds, and have tried to recruit me to join them.

When I was first approached, I was sympathetic, and there is still one very good reason the city shouldn’t build these decks: they’re not worth it.  Decking advocates claim that the project will allow new affordable housing, bring in more tax revenue and connect Sunnyside more closely with Long Island City.  Those are nice, but we can get them all without spending billions of taxpayer dollars on decks.

We can get more housing and bring in more tax revenue by rezoning our miles of single-family and attached house zones to allow for new apartments, and building new trains to connect these neighborhoods to Manhattan.  Modern, quiet elevated trains like those in Vancouver cost a fraction of what we spent on the Second Avenue Subway.

To the extent Sunnyside feels disconnected from Long Island City and Astoria, it’s because the bridges over the Yards are noisy and feel unsafe.  They are desolate at night, and filled with speeding cars at most hours. Shops and homes along the route would make them feel safer, but that doesn’t require giant decks; it could be done by doubling the widths of the bridges.

The noise of the 7 train could be mitigated by extending the concrete cladding that shields us from the tracks in Sunnyside.  The noise of the roadway could be mitigated by removing the large metal barriers that reflect noise back onto the sidewalks and replacing them with fences.  These are expensive projects, but much less expensive than building giant decks.

I oppose the decking proposals on these fiscal grounds.  I do not object to them on any of the other grounds that my neighbors assert without evidence.  I do not believe that they would contribute to displacement or overcrowding in our existing buildings; if anything, the added supply would probably give us more room and bring rents down.

I also disagree with the claims by some of my neighbors claim that new buildings on the decks would add to construction noise, dust or car traffic, or significantly increase crowding on the 7 train.  I do not agree with the claim by one of my neighbors that these decks will result in a net increase in carbon emissions and heat simply by containing buildings.

These decks are not a worthwhile use of our tax dollars.  If private investors are willing to pay for these decks, I have no reason to oppose them.  I would much rather see the money spent on new subways, and the housing achieved by upzoning.