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City decides not to appeal ruling on Willets Point mega-mall

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The city said a recent appellate court ruling requiring state legislative approval before a proposed mega-mall could move forward gave it an impetus to push for more housing in the $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan.

In February 2014, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), along with the City Club of New York, Queens Civic Congress, members of Willets Point United and nearby residents and business owners filed a lawsuit against the transfer of 47 acres of Queens parkland, worth about $1 billion, to build the Willets West mega-mall near Citi Field.

In July, the Appellate Division of the First Department ruled in favor of Avella and the Flushing Meadows Corona Park advocates, declaring the development could not continue without state legislative approval because it involves city parkland.

After the project’s developer, Queens Development Group, filed its appeal Wednesday, the city had discussions with the company and expressed concerns that the housing would be hard to deliver and would not happen in a reasonable time frame, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

A spokeswoman for the city Law Department, which represents city agencies in litigation, said it decided not to appeal the decision.

“We have reviewed the Appellate Division’s unanimous decision holding that the Willets West Retail and Entertainment Center was not permitted by law and have decided against seeking leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said the city would like to see more affordable housing in the plan.

“We really want to see 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,” Glen said in a statement. “We know a lot has gone into this project, and we hope that this team will continue to work towards that goal with us.”

The Queens Development Group said it is confident that its appeal will be successful.

The company said it supports the de Blasio administra­tion’s efforts on affordable housing and plans to accelerate the housing portion of the plan but that those efforts need to be supported by a “financially viable model.” Work on the affordable housing component is now scheduled to start in 2025, well past the dates envisioned when the project was first proposed.

“We look forward to working with the administration over the next few months to enable this extraordinary investment in Queens that will grow the local economy, reverse 100 years of pollution and create thousands of good-paying jobs just as the local community board, the City Council and the State Supreme Court intended,” the developer said in a statement.

Avella commended the city’s decision and criticized the Queens Development Group for continuing plans to appeal, noting that the plan would take away city parkland, displace small businesses without fair compensation and has no substantial commitments to provide affordable and market rate housing.

“I want to thank the administration for seeing the flaws in this plan and choosing not to continue this indefensible fight,” Avella said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Updated 5:11 pm, August 20, 2015
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