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Queens Chronicle

Willets Point plan approved by City Council

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Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 4:48 pm

In a vote of 42 for, 3 against and 1 abstention, the City Council Wednesday afternoon approved the massive $3 billion mixed-use development to transform the auto repair shops of Willets Point into a destination for eating and shopping and the Citi Field parking lot into a mall.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who had originally opposed the plan because of inadequate housing in the plan, said Wednesday: “After taking the needs of my constituents into consideration, I think this proposal will be a win for my constituents, a win for Willets Point and a win for the city of New York.”

Voting against the plan were Democrats Charles Barron of Brooklyn and Danny Dromm of Jackson Heights and Republican Dan Halloran of Whitestone, while Peter Vallone Jr. of  Astoria abstained.

 The proposal was first announced in 2008 by Mayor Bloomberg, who called the 62-acre Willets Point “the next great neighborhood.” It was immediately opposed by Willets Point business and property owners. 

Delays, lawsuits and finding a developer held up the city until last year, when the mayor revealed changes to the plan, the largest of which was the addition of the Willets West mall. He also announced that the co-developers selected were The Related Companies and Sterling Equities, the real estate firm controlled by the owners of the Mets.

Phase 1 of the plan as approved is expected to take at least 15 years to complete. First, the city will spend $100 million to clean up contamination on the first 23 acres starting next year with an estimated 2015 completion date.

Then developers will transform 126th Street, across from Citi Field, into an area with a 200-room hotel, 30,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants and an interim 20-acre surface parking area that can be converted to recreational use when the Mets are not playing at home. The completion date is scheduled for 2016. 

Then the developers will build Willets West and turn the Citi Field parking lot into a million-square-foot retail and entertainment center with more than 200 stores, movie theaters, restaurants, a parking structure and surface space for 2,500 cars. Scheduled completion date is 2018.

Still in question is the legality of using public parkland for private gain. The city is relying on a 1961 statute regarding the Met that appears not to allow such a mall. Also, the city still needs to get state approval for the land giveaway.

Once the mall is completed, the city will go ahead with the federally approved construction of new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps.

Phase 1 work will conclude with constructing more retail space, offices, 2,500 housing units with 875 of them affordable and a 280-room hotel in Willets Point. The starting date for the residential units is 2025.

But groups like the Queens Housing Coalition, which wants the residential area built sooner, are concerned that they will be built at all. Members have held several rallies and meetings in Corona.

No timetable has been set for later work, which calls for erecting a small convention center, additional housing and a park. 

The major opponents of the project are members of Willets Point United, who do not want to move their businesses. Although the city has agreements with 95 percent of the landowners, plans for the others remain in the air. The city said it would not use eminent domain to get them out.

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