Council biased in favor of Willets development

A recent TimesLedger Newspapers article (“Parking permit is crux of Willets Point redux,” Sept. 6-12) mentions a public hearing held Sept. 3 by the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. The article focussed on the developers’ decision to seek a special permit for parking at Willets Point, but omitted other newsworthy aspects of the hearing.

At issue was the application of developers Sterling/Related which, if approved by the Council, would result in a 1.4 million square foot Willets West mall being constructed on Queens parkland, Willets Point property worth more than $200 million gifted to Sterling/Related for just $1, an additional $99 million grant of taxpayer funds to Sterling/Related, no contractual obligation to construct new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps and no clear path to construct any housing — among many abrogations of promises made in 2008.

At the hearing, public testifiers opposed to the Sterling/Related application outnumbered those in favor. Testifiers in opposition included the Queens Civic Congress, representing more than 100 Queens civic associations; individual community organizations, including the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and the Auburndale Improvement Association; the Property Rights Foundation of America, whose president traveled from Albany to testify; and New York City Park Advocates, among others.

Testifiers presented the reasons why constructing a mall on mapped parkland is illegal, and their written demand that the Council’s General Counsel provide a formal legal opinion to all Council members before they consider this application; explained how the present plan of Sterling/Related prioritizes constructing a mall while not delivering benefits touted during 2008 or making them susceptible to contractual escape clauses; summarized the severe, unavoidable traffic effects to be generated by the Sterling/Related plan — especially since the huge mall would open with no new Van Wyck ramps; and recounted how a three-year investigation by the state attorney general has determined that city Economic Development Corp. and Claire Shulman’s local development corporation illegally lobbied for approval of the Willets Point development.

And yet the development not only proceeds despite such illegality, but is awarded to Sterling, owned by the owners of the New York Mets. They are premier financiers of Shulman’s development corporation as it illegally lobbied.

The circumstances of the hearing were also newsworthy. With minimal advance notice, it was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. the morning after Labor Day, when many people were away for the holiday. The subcommittee consists of 10 Council members, but less than half of them were present for the Willets Point portion of the hearing. The Council only published notice of the hearing on its website the prior Thursday, with Friday being the sole business day between the notice and the hearing.

Subcommittee Chairman Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) then slashed the time per public speaker to two minutes and prohibited Willets Point United from showing its PowerPoint presentation at the hearing — even though it would have taken no more time to do so than the combined testimonies of people who would have ceded their time.

All of this demonstrates the Council’s contempt for public comment about Sterling/Related’s proposed Willets West mall/Willets Point development. Land Use Chairman Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Weprin should be ashamed of themselves.

These latest examples of bias come a year after the mayor’s office and EDC selected Sterling/Related and their plan to expand the development from 62 to 108.9 acres, including putting a shopping mall on parkland in a private process that shut out the Queens-based Willets Point Advisory Committee from participation, contrary to multiple written promises.

The fix appears to be in. Let the Council now show us otherwise.

Gerald Antonacci

Willets Point United Inc.

Willets Point

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