Cb 7 OKs Willets Point project in close vote
By Joe Anuta

Community Board 7 approved the $3 billion Willets Point redevelopment project Monday night in a lengthy meeting heavily attended by advocates for and against the project.

The board voted 22-18 to pass the measure, although they attached a list of conditions.

“We want to go on record with what we want,” CB 7 Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian said to the board.

The Queens Development Group, consisting of Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the New York Mets, was selected to carry out a portion of the city’s 2008 redevelopment plan to clean up toxic soil within 23 acres of the Iron Triangle. The group will then be able to build a new, mixed-use neighborhood on the site.

Had the developers stuck to that plan, no further approvals would have been necessary for them to break ground.

But the joint venture decided to construct a 1.4-million-square-foot mall to the west of Citi Field, on parkland leased to the Mets, in what land use lawyers for the group characterized as an essential component in making the project economically viable.

“What you won’t hear from anyone here tonight with development experience is another plan to clean up Willets Point,” lawyer Ethan Goodman told the board. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The city Economic Development Corp., which is facilitating the development of the project, lauded the decision in a statement Tuesday.

“This community board vote is an important step towards transforming Willets Point and building a new mixed-income neighborhood that will create thousands of jobs and billions in investment,” said EDC Executive Director Kyle Kimball.

The group says a 1961 law allows the mall to be built, but the partnership is back at CB 7 seeking approvals to relocate Mets parking from the site of the proposed mall to Willets Point, a use that was not outlined in the 2008 plan.

The temporary Willets Point lot, according to the two-phase plan, would then be ripped up for affordable housing, a school and other retail beginning in 2024 when the joint venture builds new parking garages, provided the city constructs exit ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway — something it is not contractually obligated to do, but has committed to undertaking.

The joint venture’s proposal now moves to the borough president’s office before landing at the Department of City Planning and then the City Council for a vote.

But Benjamin Haber, a Queens activist opposed to the plan, called Goodman’s presentation a “Hollywood script” and urged the board to strike down the proposal and ward off untold traffic horrors and avoid building a mall on parkland.

Others protested the delay of affordable housing and questioned if it would ever be built.

The board’s Land Use Committee had initially voted down a motion to approve the proposal last week. But sometime afterward, Apelian had discussions with the developers and city. The committee received a list of commitments Monday from the joint venture and the city attempting to assuage many of the committee’s concerns.

The committee reconvened an hour before Monday night’s meeting and quickly hammered out a new motion, with Apelian and CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty hashing out amendments with a representative of the city seated a few feet away.

Several board members, including Kelty and Apelian, switched their votes from a no to a yes, and after the regular board meeting was scheduled to begin, and with a roomful of people standing behind them, the motion passed 10-6 with conditions.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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