With the calendar turning to September, one news item that will continue to generate headlines throughout the month is going to be the progress of the Willets Point development project.
Later this month, the City Planning Commission (CPC) is likely to hold another round of public hearings to discuss the city’s plan for Willets Point, before the CPC issues its decision on the project by the end of September. If the CPC approves the city’s plans for Willets Point, the project would then go before the City Council - where the majority of Councilmembers have expressed opposition to the current plans.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) unveiled its master plan for the approximately 60-acre site including 1 million square feet of retail shops and restaurants, 500,000 square feet of office space, 5,500 units of housing and a convention center, and has been meeting with community groups, elected officials and businesses in the area throughout the past year tweaking the plan.
Currently, the city has announced agreements to purchase the property of four of the 74 land and business owners in the area, and it has been widely reported that Crown Container has also reached an agreement with the city, although EDC officials would not confirm that.
“Any movement forward is a good sign,” said former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who is the President of the Flushing/Willets Point/Corona Local Development Corporation - a leading advocacy group for the project.
Meanwhile, the city is continuing negotiations with the other business and property owners, but they have not ruled out using eminent domain to acquire the property.
“The city is making some progress in filling in the meat of the plans for Willets point,” said City Councilmember John Liu. “There still is a huge issue with this administration’s use of eminent domain and that is something that has not been addressed.”
Many are crediting the renewed talks between the businesses and the city to an August meeting organized by State Senator Minority Leader Malcolm Smith.
Anthony Fodera, the owner of Fodera Foods, was present at the meeting, and although he praised Smith for bringing back talks between the city and businesses, he said that the city has had three years to negotiate with the businesses and little has been resolved.
“We have always maintained that we have wanted to be a part of this process, but we have been excluded from it,” said Fodera, who pointed to the fact that only four agreements have been reached as ample evidence that the negotiations are not working.
“All we’ve ever asked for is that we own the land, we want to be included,” said Fodera, who is a member of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA), which represents a majority of the property owners at the site. “You’re going to see more and more from us, not less.”
Meanwhile, if the project reaches the City Council like it is expected to, there will likely be many questions and concerns the Council will want addressed.
“I think there will be a great deal of discussion and negotiation,” Liu said. “This is really of citywide import.”