Willets Point Redevelopment Hits Potholes

The city’s plan to acquire and raze 61 acres of land in Willets Point in Queens has “no chance of surviving the public review process” Councilmember Hiram Monserrate charted in a letter—endorsed by 28 other Councilmembers—to city officials in charge of development plans for the site.

The plan for Willets Point proposes a smörgåsbord of mixed uses for the area including “residential, retail, hotel, convention center, entertainment, commercial office, cultural, community facility, open space, and parking,” at a positively Moses-ian 8.91 million square-feet of building space, according to an Environmental Impact Statement Draft. The project would use a single developer, but that developer has not been named.

With the backing of the city Economic Development Corporation, the plan entered the zoning process—known as ULURP or the Uniform Land Use Review Process—on Monday, despite community opposition that includes legal accusations of systemic neglect on the part of the city.

The area lies immediately adjacent to Shea Stadium and the under-construction Citi Field, and has long been an apple in the eye of New York’s big planners , including Robert Moses and Mayors extending back to Ed Koch. The added twist in this go-round is the brand new Citi Field already under construction nearby, and a law suit that alleges the City has neglected the area to lay the ground work for condemning and seizing the area.

“It’s our land we’re not going to leave it” said Dan Feinstein, a member of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, which has filed suit against the city. He also runs Feinstein Iron Works in the area currently under review for rezoning.

“You might think ‘How can a place in NYC have no streets?’ We don’t.” Nothing’s been fixed here in 30 years” said Feinstein. “We don’t have street sweepers, we don’t have streets to sweep.”

The suit calls for the city to provide basic utilities such as sewers and road maintenance that plaintiffs claim have been denied to the area, and monetary damages to cover loss of business. Restoring basic services to the area will allow redevelopment without the use of eminent domain, according to Feinstein.

“We don’t believe the city should profit off its own misdeeds” said Michael Gerrard, lawyer for The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association. “We believe city should not be able to drive down value then seize it at bargain basement prices.”

The letter from Councilmember Monserrate throws another wrench in the works. Monserrate represents Willets Point and the areas surrounding it, and the opposition of 29 Councilmembers would be sufficient to block any proposal going through the council.

Vagueness and lack of public input remain a sticking points for businesses and other community members. Both Feinstein and Gerrard claim that the city has made little to no effort in reaching out to landowners for relocation, and the letter from Monserrate claims that “The plan provides no guarantees that the displaced workers and small businesses will be treated fairly or compensated with meaningful benefits to the surrounding communities such as housing affordable to the average family.”

Large-scale development projects in New York have been receiving rough treatment lately, and the tea leaves seem to be predicting another difficult path for Willets Point.


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