By Joe Anuta
Developers of the $3 million Willets Point project are not contractually required to build affordable housing in part because the city wants to shield itself from a potential lawsuit.
The Bloomberg administration did not want to risk paying out legal damages to the developers — Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the New York Mets — should the city fail to build additional ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway, an essential precursor to constructing the housing component of the project, officials and the companies said at a recent meeting.
“If for some unforeseen reason [the ramps] didn’t get built, they didn’t want us to have a right to sue the city,” Glen Goldstein, president of Related Retail, said at an April 25 meeting with Community Board 7. “It was done so there would be no liability from the city to the joint venture.”
After passing the City Council with much fanfare over the affordable housing component of the project in 2008, the 62-acre project was subsequently split into two phases by the Bloomberg administration.
The first phase was then split into two more phases by the joint venture, which inked a contract with the city in August 2012 to develop 23 acres.
The first phase entails cleaning the historically contaminated soil. Then the Queens Development Group will build a hotel and small retail stores along 126th Street across from Citi Field, a temporary parking lot behind that and a 1.4 million-square-foot mall west of Citi Field in a parking lot leased to the Mets.
The housing component, including affordable units, is slated to be built on the temporary parking lot in the second phase beginning in 2024, but there is no guarantee that will happen. The ramps are required to start, yet the city is not required to build them.
Last week a state lawmaker demanded a contractual guarantee that the affordable housing portion will be built during a news conference in the Iron Triangle.
“We need to get back to the table and ensure we get affordable housing back in the plan,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said at a small rally May 30 with two community advocacy groups: Make the Road New York and the Queens Housing Coalition.
Peralta blasted what he called “bait and switch” tactics on the city’s part, allowing affordable housing to be touted when the measure passed the Council, but then pushing it to the tail end of the development.
The city Economic Development Corp. said it has no plans to alter the contract, since it has repeatedly pledged it will follow through with the construction, estimated to cost about $50 million.
“The city is committed to the full cost of building the ramps,” David Quart, of the city Economic Development Corp., said at the April 25 meeting.
In fact, the corporation has already begun initiatives to set aside funding and gain approvals for the ramps, according to EDC, which will eventually lead to the full 35 percent of affordable house outlined in the 2008 plan.
The Bloomberg Administration and the developers maintain the retail components of the project need to come first to make it economically viable and set the stage for a new neighborhood.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 718-260-4566.