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CB 7 seeks firm plans before Willets Pt. vote

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Frustrations mounted at Community Board 7's committee meeting on the Willets Point redevelopment Monday night as several questioned the city over the lack of certainty surrounding the project.

Monday's meeting, the second of five scheduled before the board votes on the plan June 23, focused primarily on the details of the special zoning district, which would lay the groundwork for the $4 billion Willets Point redevelopment the city envisions.

Tension grew at the meeting after Department of City Planning representative Neil Gagliardi, who had just spent an hour explaining how the city's plan came to fruition, issued a blunt response to a question asked by CB 7 Zoning Chairman Chuck Apelian.

"So this project may not be built like this?" Apelian asked, referring to a large amount of flexibility within the city's plan.

"Yeah," Gagliardi responded.

The city Economic Development Corporation has proposed the creation of a Willets Point Special Zoning District, which it says would all but guarantee the agency's vision for a sustainable mixed-use development featuring up to 5,500 units of housing, a 400,000-square-foot convention center and more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space becoming a reality.

If approved, the Willets Point Special Zoning District would place limits on the type and scope of any development to occur within the 62-acre site, providing a blueprint for everything from the size of storefronts and streets to where the residential and commercial uses at the site would be placed.

The Special Zoning District does not, however, guarantee that the city or the developer, which will be selected after the project is approved, will adhere to the plan as the city is presenting it.

"There is flexibility in the plan, yes," said EDC Vice President Tom McKnight. "But the special district overall controls for a limited number of outcomes."

Several members of the board bristled, however, at the idea of approving a flexible framework rather than a concrete plan because aspects of the city's proposal — such as a 900-seat school and 1,100 units of affordable housing — could be left out of the final project.

At that point, Apelian contended, the community would have no way of changing it.

"I think this board is empathetic to the fact that you need flexibility," Apelian said. "But that flexibility without any check or balance coming back to those who are affected by the plan the most is dangerous."

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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