Willets Point land sale approved

Willets Point land sale approved
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Bianca Fortis

The Queens Borough Board voted to authorize the city’s Economic Development Council to transfer 23 acres of land for the Willets Point redevelopment project.

The city is selling the land for $1 to Queens Development Group LLC, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Cos., which plans to turn the site into New York’s “next great neighborhood,” complete with a convention center, a hotel and a shopping center.

The approval, which took place at the Board’s Monday meeting, marks the beginning of the first phase of the $3 billion project, which includes a cleanup of the 23 acres of land.

The City Council approved the original Willets Point redevelopment project in 2008, but the plans for the site changed in 2012 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that his administration had selected developers for the site. The new plans included the mall and a parking garage.

The project has been controversial since its inception because the city will use eminent domain to oust the more than 200 businesses, primarily auto body shops and junkyards, which set up shop on the Willets Point peninsula.

Together the affected businesses formed Willets Point United, which charges that the city is abusing its power of eminent domain and has neglected the peninsula, which lacks any basic city services, for decades.

But the Council approved the new project plans in October.

“This is a project that is very complex,” Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who represents the district in which Willets Point is located, said Monday night at the Queens Borough Board meeting. “Has every conversation been easy? “No. But I think we have come to a place where we are comfortable. I’m comfortable as the local Council member.”

Ferreras said the two most significant issues in the district are affordable housing and jobs and that the project addresses both.

Ferreras initially opposed the redevelopment plan, but after receiving certain concessions, such as more affordable housing and more money to relocate the businesses, she decided to vote in favor of it.

“I am very humbled and honored as a resident of Corona and someone who grew up in the neighborhood to give my vote today,” she continued. “We need to move forward and have change. This is a positive thing for our community.”

Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, urged the Borough Board to vote against the sale. He said CB 7 had previously agreed to take on projects, but the plans end up changing without CB 7 being “kept in the loop.” He said other projects, such as a police tow pound, have been “dumped” into the community.

He also said certain sites known to be contaminated are not included in the developers’ proposal for remediation.

“This board has a problem with the agreement with the city of New York,” he said. “We do not believe it. We do not trust it.”

A representative of the city Economic Development Corp. said that while the current brownfield application only includes part of the site, the developers later intend to clean up all 23 acres of the site.

Ultimately, Kelty was the only one to vote against the sale.

But every other board member — Borough President Helen Marshall, Ferreras and Council members Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) — voted to approve the sale.

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at bfortis@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.