The mid-rise interior of Long Island City’s skyscraper district at Queens Plaza/Court Square is about to get another addition in the form of a six-story, eight-unit building at 42-43 27th Street. The builder, New York Fast General Construction, lives up to their name as construction is moving at a rapid pace. When we last checked in at the beginning of March, excavation was only starting. Now, a month and a half later, more than half of the foundation walls in the basement are complete, with metal rebar ready for assembly of the ground floor.
The building occupies a 1,865-square-foot, mid-block lot on the east side of 27th Street. Measuring only 25-feet-wide and sandwiched between the lot walls of its neighbors, the narrow site leaves preciously little room for construction staging. Until early 2015, it was occupied by a single-story office building, with Strictly Auto Leasing as its most recent known occupant, in tune with old Long Island City’s status quo as an auto service district. In December 2014, we brought you news of the site’s purchase by Xi Zhao of Green Land 27 LLC, who paid close to $1.7 million for the property, with the intention of developing it as an eight-story, eight-unit structure with retail at ground level.
As it stands today, the project is scaled down to six stories, rising 67 feet high as indicated on its permits. The ground level of the 9,372-square-foot building is dedicated to 1,450 square feet of retail, with eight units spread across the five floors above. The design by Tan Architect is minimal but appealing. A single row of wide windows contrasts with the mostly solid wall of the eight-story 42-37 27th Street apartment building to the north. The new structure will block most of its neighbor’s lot wall, which is clad in three color gradations of horizontal green siding. The new building’s footprint occupies 57 percent of the site, leaving room for a 30-foot-long yard in the rear.
Although the project is low key even by Long Island City standards, it represents a step in the right direction for the neighborhood’s development. Large projects define the skyline, and their block-busting bases make their presence felt across the neighborhood. The public amenities within allow major tenants to engage the public in a dramatic manner. But while such projects serve as important anchors, small projects such as 42-43 27th Street provide essential counter-balance for creating an appealing, diverse neighborhood. In her influential 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs argued that neighborhoods work best when they are served by buildings large and small, old and new, allowing for a mix of scales, tenants, and amenities.
While much of the old Court Square District was composed of dilapidated warehouses and auto shops with few, if any, redeeming qualities, they were mixed with traditional rowhomes, many of which still line 27th Street. Coexistence of old structures with new projects prepares the neighborhood for the future while maintaining local continuity, rather than restarting with a blank, sterile slate. 42-43 27th Street is among the handful of new “pencil tower” mid-rises on the nearby blocks. Their 25-foot width matches the street presence of the rowhomes, while their six- to 10-story height serves as a stepping stone between the existing low-rises and the new skyscrapers. It is also important that its 60-foot-high façade would rise straight from the sidewalk, maintaining the continuity of the existing street wall, while small scale retail would provide interaction with the community.
The project is well-served by public transit, with the Queensboro Plaza station a block and a half to the north, the Queens Plaza station two blocks to the east, and the Court Square station a block and a half west. A small, triangular park sits just a few doors down at the south end of the block.