Both sides are claiming victory in last week's Willets Point redevelopment vote at Community Board 7. That is peculiar because the meeting showed this issue's divisiveness.
The board voted 20-15 to conditionally approve redevelopment plans, based on the stipulation that a number of conditions would be met before the City Council votes.
These conditions include greater public oversight once a developer is chosen, the creation of a multimillion-dollar fund to address unforeseen problems that may arise and a guarantee that 30 percent of all housing is affordable.
Tom Mina of T. Mina Building supply said the vote is a “total victory” for the opposition. Former Borough President Claire Shulman, who supports the plan, also claimed victory: “It was worth every minute of it, it's good government.”
But Willets Point Committee Chairman Chuck Apelian got it right when he said: “I think what this board was able to get from the city is really terrific. But we are the first step of the ladder and everything doesn't get worked out on the first rung.”
The city hopes to clear out the existing businesses and redevelop the area into a sprawling residential and commercial neighborhood with as many as 5,500 housing units and more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space. The project is expected to cost at least $3 billion.
It has the support of Borough President Helen Marshall, who is expected to issue her recommendation following a July 10 public hearing at Borough Hall.
The question remains how long this project can be stuck on that first rung. We have learned from the Ground Zero fiasco just how slowly wheels can turn. Seven years after the attack, the city has yet to tear down all of the buildings damaged on Sept. 11.
Process and the businesses that have owned property and done business in Willets Point for decades must be protected. Much of what is wrong at Willets Point is not their fault.
We believe the redevelopment will serve Queens' greater good. The site as it exists is wasted real estate. The new vision for the area will create thousands of additional jobs and create new borough income.