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Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC
Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC
Rendering of the Willets West redevelopment plan.

New York’s highest court has ruled against a long-delayed proposal to develop on over 60 acres of public parkland in Corona.

The New York State Court of Appeals announced on June 6 that the $3 billion development proposal by the Queens Development Group LLC (QDG) will not be able to move forward without approval from state legislature.

“In sum, the text of the statute and its legislative history flatly refute the proposition that the legislature granted the city the authority to construct a development such as Willets West in Flushing Meadows Park,” the majority ruled, referring to a law that allowed for Shea Stadium to be constructed on parkland in the 1960s.

The two-phase development proposed by QDG, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies, included plans to construct a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, public school and affordable housing in the area where Shea Stadium once stood, known as “Willets West.” The city approved QDG’s proposal in 2012, but an appellate court blocked the developers from using designated parkland without legislative approval in July 2015.

The New York State Court of Appeals decided in November 2015 that it would consider QDG’s appeal to review the ruling that shot down the proposed project. Today, the project was shot down again by the court.

Bayside-based state Senator Tony Avella, who was the lead plaintiff in the case against the developers, said the court’s decision was “music to [his] ears.”

“Today’s decision was a resounding victory for the public trust doctrine and residents across New York state,” Avella said. “This land was intended to be used as parkland, not for the development of a mega-mall. In a city where public land is in short supply, simply handing over parkland would be an absolute disgrace and a betrayal of the public trust. This victory sets a precedent for decades to come that our government cannot give away our parkland or be complicit in a developer’s heist of public land.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz put out a statement regarding the decision, stating that redevelopment at the site “must meet the city’s critical needs and ever-growing demand.”

“Willets Point has been a topic of discussion for decades, and it’s now been nearly 10 years since the Urban Renewal Plan to redevelop this 61-acre parcel of untapped land,” Katz said. “Queens needs predictability and action in this highly coveted area of Willets Point. The City has immediate, desperate needs for affordable housing units and good jobs. In addition to the urban renewal plan proposals for hotels, soccer and hockey stadiums to attract even more visitors and generate economic activity and jobs have been abundant. We look forward to working together with the current administration and the community on identifying what’s in the best interest of the borough, and on an aggressive timeline to clean up the area and its nearby waterways.

Former state Senator Hiram Monserrate, who recently announced a run for outgoing Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s council seat, put out a statement applauding the court’s decision.

“I salute Senator Tony Avella and the Park advocates who stood up to protect our local park when our local officials went along with this immoral land grab,” Monserrate said. “Now the entire Willets Point Plan needs to be re-opened with the 2008 plan as a road map towards responsible development that benefits the people.”

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