A Hard-Won Victory for Mr. Mumford’s Human Scale

Local movers and shakers responded swiftly during the summer and fall of 2015 to oppose a disturbing proposal from the Phipps Houses corporation for an enormous new building on Barnett Avenue.  In the footsteps of our historic and far-sighted neighbor Lewis Mumford (in Sunnyside Gardens from 1925 to 1936), who espoused communities built on a human scale, our neighbors demonstrated a commanding consensus throughout Woodside and Sunnyside, recording over 2000 petition signatures calling for the rejection of Phipps’ re-zoning plan that would have permitted the building. Online, a Change.org petition registered 450 opponents from across the globe.

Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer stood with his constituents, announcing in the spring of 2016 that he would block this re-zoning and development, and Phipps finally withdrew its application the day before the final public hearing at the New York City Council, which had been scheduled for September 20. Over 100 activists—more than “one for every foot of the proposed 100-foot tower”—were at the ready to back up Councilman Van Bramer with their testimony and a multitude of agreement at City Hall.

What was at stake here? The proposed building would have been 10 times the height of other buildings on its side of Barnett Avenue and over twice the height of buildings across the street, where its bulk and scale, its materials and appearance, would have been far out of keeping with the historic district it confronted. Despite blandishments about listening to community concerns, the developers’ final plan became even bigger and less appealing, with more apartments (220), half as many parking spaces (101, reduced from 199), and scant benefit—“affordable” apartments limited to 20% of the total, with the other 80% priced above the median income of 75% of the current residents in our community. In the longer term, rather than lose the largest employer in our neighborhood (Steve Madden) and inflict losses to local small businesses, we warded off an upzoning that would have invited dozens of other developers to follow this precedent and permanently congest our west, north, and northeast borders.

Read the scoop published by the Sunnyside Post (click here).

Here is the list of objections underscoring so many petition signatures (PDF).

This was an important victory as our neighborhood strives to maintain the low density and adequate infrastructure to support the existing population. But it won’t be the last challenge we face. To work toward saving the scale, context, and quality of life in our community, please e-mail us at Neighborhood@SunnysideGardens.us.