Tag Archives: willets west

City drops its appeal of court’s decision against Willets West development


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Economic Development Corporation

Updated Friday, Aug. 21, 9:43 a.m.

Plans for the redevelopment of Willets Point took another hit Wednesday, this time from the City of New York.

The de Blasio administration announced it would not participate in an appeal of a State Appellate Court’s decision blocking the construction of Willets West, a million-square-foot mall on the Citi Field parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood. The court declared that the parking lot is city parkland, and that the parties involved did not reach an agreement to replace parkland lost in connection with the project, violating a state mandate.

The withdrawal came after failed negotiations between the city and the project’s main developers — Queens Development Group (QDG), which includes Related Companies and Sterling Equities — over plans to speed up the creation of affordable housing within the larger redevelopment plans for Willets Point. That demand, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, was not viewed by the developers as being economically feasible.

It also marks a stark reversal for the city, which previously supported the mall’s creation under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has thus far spent more than $400 million in purchasing land in Willets Point to make way for the neighborhood’s transformation from an industrial hub to a commercial and residential community.

The source, however, claimed the city’s decision was not a matter of philosophical differences between administrations, noting that the city apparently attempted to leverage the impending appeal into the expedited creation of affordable housing at Willets Point.

“They threw out the baby with the bathwater,” the source said, adding that the city was calling upon the developers to “take a leap of faith” and make a commitment to affordable housing at Willets Point without offering secure economic means to get the job done.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, in an official statement, acknowledged that the city desires “significant improvements that would mean that the public would also see a healthy mix of affordable and market-rate housing, delivered on a real time frame.”

“Nearly half a billion dollars is an enormous public investment to make when the only guarantee is a shopping mall. The deal as it stood did not require any affordable housing actually be built,” Glen said. “We know a lot has gone into this project, and we hope that this team will continue to work towards that goal with us.”

Nevertheless, Queens Development Group is pressing on with its efforts to overturn the Appellate Court’s decision on Willets West and the redevelopment of the area as a whole, according to spokesman Phil Singer.

“We are committed to the redevelopment of Willets Point and are confident that our appeal of the Appellate Court’s ruling will be successful,” Singer said in a statement. “The QDG plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, provides an additional $3 billion private investment which will finally clean up the long-contaminated land at Willets and provide the facilities and infrastructure for a brand-new neighborhood.”

Regarding the city’s push for affordable housing, Singer indicated the QDG supports the de Blasio administration’s efforts and is “committed to significantly accelerating the housing portion of this plan.”

“But those efforts need to be backed by a financially viable model,” he cautioned.

Opponents of the Willets West plan hailed the city’s withdrawal from the appeal effort.

“I am pleased to hear that the city administration has decided not to appeal the Appellate Division’s unanimous and well-reasoned decision,” said state Senator Tony Avella in a statement. He charged that the developers, by continuing the appeal, “have refused to see the fundamental flaws in the Bloomberg plan in all its variations.”

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007.  (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Willets Point saga has gone on for nearly a decade. Back in 2007, the city put forth a multibillion-dollar vision of turning industrial Willets Point into a neighborhood featuring more than 5,000 new apartments, many of which were to be reserved as affordable housing. Businesses in the area, however, banded together in an effort to thwart the city’s acquisition plans; many of them eventually settled and agreed to relocate to the Bronx.

Before putting a shovel in the ground, the city is also required to remediate decades of pollution left by industry there and develop basic infrastructure such as sewer and water lines. Completion of the redevelopment is currently projected for 2026.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the city and Sterling Equities — which owns the New York Mets and Citi Field — announced plans for Willets West, including a large mall, a movie theater complex and a 200-room hotel. Opponents of Willets West filed suit, pointing out that the former Shea Stadium site where the mall is to be built is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — a claim that the Queens Supreme Court dismissed in 2014 but the State Appellate Court accepted this year.

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Plans for Willets Point mega mall blocked by appellate court


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

An appellate court blocked developers of proposed mega mall Willets West last week from using designated parkland without legislative approval, creating a major bump in the road to the project’s construction.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled on Aug. 21, 2014, in favor of the developers, Queens Development Group, who were co-defendants with the city in the suit. That decision was made on the grounds that the development was legal under a 1961 law written to allow for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland, and effectively dismissed a suit aiming to block the development brought by state Senator Tony Avella and park advocates.

The four appellate judges overturned the Supreme Court on July 2 and unanimously agreed that the project cannot be legally built on the site because it is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queens Development Group did not undergo a process called alienation, which allows a municipality to transfer parkland to a nonpublic entity. In this process the municipality must receive prior authorization from the state in the form of legislation enacted by the New York State Legislature and approved by the governor.

Justice Angela Mazzarelli wrote that the law allowing for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland did not exempt any future projects from having to undergo the proper approval process.

“No reasonable reading of Administrative Code section 18-118 allows for the conclusion that the legislature in 1961 contemplated, much less gave permission for, a shopping mall, unrelated to the anticipated stadium, to be constructed in the park,” said Mazzarelli.

Avella and the leader of civic group Willets Point United, Gerald Antonacci, were glad to have claimed a victory after such a long fight.

“Since 2007, we have battled the city at all times over its plans for Willets Point, which expanded in 2012 against the community’s wishes to include the gigantic proposed ‘Willets West’ mall on public parkland,” said Antonacci. “Today the Appellate Division agrees with what we’ve said all along: The city and developers failed to follow lawful procedure and now as a result their whole project cannot proceed.”

“The fact of the matter is, this land was intended to be parkland, not the development of a shopping mall,” said Avella. “In a city where public land is in short supply, simply handing parkland over is a betrayal of trust.”

Willets West was proposed as the first phase of a major two-part rehabilitation plan for Willets Point which would have seen a retail mall and movie theater constructed on 30.7 acres of parking lot adjacent to Citi Field. These first steps toward redevelopment were to begin in 2015, and would have also included major infrastructure updates, including the remediation of 23 acres of Willets Point, the installation of sewage systems, roads and ramps to access local highways, parking spaces, and the development of a 200-room hotel.

The second phase of the Willets Point development was expected to commence in 2026, and involved the construction of mixed-income housing, a public school and additional acres of open space.

In an emailed statement, Queens Development Group said they would appeal the decision.

“This decision, which overturns a well-reasoned decision of the New York Supreme Court, blocks a plan that has been embraced by a wide variety of stakeholders from the City Council to civic groups to labor organizations and others,” said a spokesperson for Queens Development Group. “We believe the Appellate Division Court misinterpreted the statute, improperly narrowing the broad authority it conveyed which would result in an unacceptable status quo, instead of enabling a widely supported investment that will reverse 100 years of pollution and create thousands of much-needed good paying jobs.”

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Borough President Marshall OKs Willets West


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File rendering

Borough President Helen Marshall approved a special permit that would pave the way for a mega mall near Citi Field.

Marshall gave developers Sterling Equities and Related Companies the thumbs up on July 2 to move parking for Citi Field to Willets Point. The joint venture ultimately needed the permit to construct a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center west of the baseball stadium.

Community Board 7 gave its green light in May, but both the board and borough president had conditions for their endorsements.

They said the joint venture must keep surrounding communities and leaders informed of the project’s progress and traffic problems that arise.

The city and the facility’s developer must also fulfill written commitments they made, which include funding traffic mitigation measures, building a 1,000-seat K-8 public school, giving $1.87 million to the Willets Point

Infrastructure and Traffic Mitigation Fund and hiring locally.

Marshall said the $3 billion project would provide 7,100 permanent jobs and generate more than $310 million in tax revenue.

Among the speakers at Marshall’s June 6 public hearing, 20 people opposed the project and two others were in favor of it.

Community Board 3 voted 31-1 against the application on May 13.

The project awaits the Department of City Planning, which held a public hearing July 10 but did not make a recommendation as of press time.

The City Council is expected to meet August 21 to give the final vote.

 

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Community Board wants more answers on Willets Point project


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee told developers of Willets Point they need to return with more answers on the proposed project before the board makes a decision.

Committee members particularly want more information about parking, traffic flow and transplanting the plethora of small business owners within the Iron Triangle.

Chuck Apelian, first vice chair and committee head, told development and city representatives things had to be done about existing infrastructure around the area, especially roads and sewers.

The joint venture, between Sterling Equities and Related, needs to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) for a special permit to move Citi Field parking to Willets Point in order to construct a shopping center, dubbed “Willets West.”

Without the permit, the project could essentially not go through.

Since the massive shopping center next to Citi Field was added to the project, board members found a number of changes from the 2008 plan. To build Willets West, the Parks Department would amend its lease with Queens Ballpark Company, which would be mediated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

NYCEDC promised it would work to help retrain workers and relocate businesses on the 23 acres on now mostly city-owned land.

CB 7 chair Eugene Kelty had an issue with how NYCEDC was moving workers and the small businesses out of the area. Kelty said he needed more answers on the relocation, or he would vote against the plan.

“The money they make there, fixing those cars, feeds their families,” he told representatives.

Kelty said EDC told CB 7 five years ago that tenants would be relocated before the properties they rented were sold to the city.

But Thomas McKnight, an executive vice president for NYCEDC, now said the city cannot legally relocate renters without first buying the property from owners.

David Quart, senior vice president of development for NYCEDC, said the agency is working to help move tenant and partnering with The Cornerstone Group, a non-profit workplace training program, to re-educate workers.

CB 7 must give a recommendation on the permit application, followed by Borough President Helen Marshall. From there it goes to the Department of City Planning and then voted on by the City Council.

Should the joint venture make it through the ULURP, the developers can only go so far in development until new exit ramps are built for the Van Wyck Expressway.

The city has promised to foot the bill for the ramps, which would go up between 2021 and 2024 with an estimated $50 million cost at today’s rates. If the city does not hold up its end of the bargain, under any circumstance, affordable housing and other components of the plan will not go through, said Jesse Masyr, one of the lawyers representing the joint venture.

“If you’re asking what remedies we as a developer have if the city doesn’t build the ramps, the answer is none,” he said.

“We have confidence that the city will build the ramps. It’s part of the overall risk the joint venture is taking.”

CB 7’s Land Use Committee will meet with representatives next on Thursday, April 25.

 

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Approved Willets Point plan to go through rigorous review


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Redevelopment of Willets Point will now go through a rigorous review process after its study was approved by the Department of City Planning (DCP).

The plan, approved by DCP on Monday, March 18, will first go to Community Board 7, which includes Willets Point, for an advisory vote. Borough President Helen Marshall will then get the plan for her own recommendation, followed by the City Council and DCP.

Between development at Willets Point and the addition of the shopping mall dubbed “Willets West,” the mixed use area will include housing, retail, hotels and an entertainment center.

Jesse Masyr, the project’s lawyer, said he’s confident the various levels of voters will jump on board with the plan, citing the environmental clean up that’s first on the project’s steps.

“It is a very, very significant effort and accomplishment,” he said, adding it would “reverse 50 years of unsuccessful attempts” to stop pollution in the area.

If the City Council ultimately rezones the area, the joint venture, between Related Companies and Sterling Equities, would begin by cleaning up the 23 acres commonly called the Iron Triangle. New York City has dedicated $100 million to removing spoiled soil and creating an infrastructure at Willets; the rest of the project is privately financed.

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has pushed for the project since updated plans were announced last June — much to the chagrin of some Willets Point business owners.

“This marks a critical step towards beginning the long-needed cleanup of toxic land in Willets Point that for years has damaged the waterfront and been a blight on the community,” a NYCEDC spokesperson said.

Opponents, however, are not confident in a fair process.

Michael Rikon, the lawyer for Willets Point United, said the city would probably approve the rezoning, and the seven-month approval process was merely a formality at this point.

This didn’t stop Rikon, however, from saying there were reasons why the project should be fought — including building Willets West on what is mapped as parkland.

“The whole thing and the whole process is a shame,” he said. “There could be 15 great reasons why there should be a condemnation on the plan.”

 

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Walmart, developers deny plans of a Willets Point store


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Rumors of Walmart setting up shop in Willets Point were quickly put to an end, after reports that the megastore was in talks with the developers about anchoring a store at Willets West.

The Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Related Companies and Sterling Equities, said in a statement that there has been no communication with Walmart.

“We have not had any talks with Walmart about a location at Willets Point and we have absolutely no intention of discussing this site with them,” the group said. “There have been and will be no negotiations, they are simply not a part of our plan to build an enclosed retail and entertainment destination at Willets Point, that will bring much needed jobs and economic activity to the area and lead to the development of a new neighborhood.”

A Walmart spokesperson said that while there is a public demand for the big box store in the five boroughs, the store did not have anything in the works within the city limits.

“While most New Yorkers want us in the city and we remain interested in ways to better serve local customers, we don’t have any announced projects in New York,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) added that talks or plans for a Willets Point Walmart were completely untrue.

“The developer has had no discussions with WalMart and these reports are absolutely without merit,” the spokesperson said.

In early 2011, there was a major backlash from the city council and small business owners when the store tried to move into the city. The store has been criticized in the past for reputed labor issues.

The idea of Walmart coming to Queens is not protested by all, however, as Councilmember Dan Halloran said he wouldn’t be against the chain coming to the borough and bringing with it thousands of jobs.

“If Walmart violates a single labor practice law, I’d be the first one to call them out on it and make sure they are fully dealt with by the labor department and other agencies,” Halloran said. “But I certainly don’t want to tell them to not bring their jobs here.”

Willets West will ‘commemorate’ Shea


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

SHEA BASE 02w

To the left of Citi Field’s main entrance is a parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood.

In this parking lot, amid the white lines that now outline parking spaces, are four bronze plaques that mark the bases that made Shea’s diamond. A first base where Keith Hernandez and Ed Kranepool stood; second where Wally Backman darted back and forth; third base, where more than 120 have played the position, from Don Zimmer in 1962 to current all-star David Wright.Then a home plate 90 feet away from a bronze rectangle to outline where Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and many others would set team and MLB records.

This site will soon, however, become home to Willets West, a one-million-square-foot shopping area that promises to bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the area.

While there are no set plans how the bases, or Shea’s 44-year legacy, will be remembered, fans and developers agree there should be some sort of tribute to the ballpark.

Ron Dresner, who is the managing editor of The Very Unofficial Mets Fan Site, said development in the area is something he supported fully — noting that Willets Point has always been prime for that. At the same time, the lay of the land needs to also be considered, he said.

“You can still move ahead with economic development and neighborhood plans but customize the design according to your ‘landscape,’” he said.

“I am not a design or engineering professional, but any new plans must incorporate the memory and recognition of Shea Stadium – especially marking the base locations,” he continued. “The last thing I would want to see is some huge movie complex built right over the old Shea diamond.”

Speaking on behalf of the Queens Development Group, spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas said that as Willets West was in the earliest stages, there had not been a set-out plan to memorialize the former home of the Mets and Jets. The developers would, however, ensure that the would be some sort of tribute in the 200-store shopping area.

“Although Willets West is still in the early planning phase and the design layout has not yet been finalized, Shea Stadium and its historic contribution to Queens will be properly and proudly commemorated,” she said.

Dresner noted that in the past the team’s legacy has been put into question. In 2009 when Citi Field opened, he said the ballpark overemphasized its Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants roots with little to no memory of the stadium where the Mets won two World Series championships.