Opponents challenge looming Willets Point land transfer

By Alex Robinson

Opponents of the Willets Point redevelopment have claimed the city cannot legally transfer all of the land for the project to developers without additional approvals from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Queens Borough Board.

The $3 billion plan will displace hundreds of auto repair shops to transform the area known as the Iron Triangle into a new neighborhood with residential space and a megamall.

In November 2013, the Queens Borough Board consented to the sale of 23 acres the city had slated for the first phase of the project to developers Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Cos., for $1.

The city has since cleared out many of the businesses in Phase 1 and has started readying the site to be transferred to the developers. Willets Point United, a group representing business and land owners in the area, has contended the property cannot yet be conveyed to the developers because the city did not own all the necessary parcels at the time the sale was approved.

“Only Mayor Bill de Blasio is empowered to authorize the sale of Willets Point property that was not city-owned during the Bloomberg administration,” the group wrote in recent letters to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who forwarded their concerns to the mayor, the city Economic Development Corp. and other involved agencies last Friday.

The group cited a subsection of the city charter, which authorizes the mayor to only sell property “of the city.”

“How could the borough board vote on something that wasn’t even sold yet? What if the people didn’t sell?” said Gerald Antonacci, a representative of Willets Point United. “How could they possibly give away that person’s property until after it was bought?”

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The city has acquired more than 95 percent of the land slated for phase one, which the EDC expects to transfer to Queens Development Group in the coming months.

Of that area, only 2 acres have actually been transferred to the developers. The city has acquired property at the site as recently as June, when it purchased a parcel on 37th Avenue, according to city records.

If the mayor, who has been fairly quiet about the project since taking office, decides to approve the sale of the newly acquired properties, the city would still need the approval of the Queens Borough Board, Antonacci said.

The city and developers are facing two pending lawsuits concerning the legality of the megamall being built on the former site of Shea Stadium. Both lawsuits contend the plan required the consent of the state Legislature as the site was mapped as parkland on city maps.

Arguments were heard in one of the cases in late July and a judge has yet to rule on it.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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