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City Council votes to support Willets West megamall proposal

The proposed megamall would be built on the Willets West portion of the neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Queens Development Group
By Madina Toure

The City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to support a developer’s legal appeal for the Willets West megamall proposal to proceed after an appellate court halted it.

The Court of Appeals recently announced that it would hear an appeal by the developer, Queens Development Group, in the megamall case after an appellate court ruled in July that the proposal could not continue without legislative approval because the megamall would be built on parkland.

The Council voted 46-2 to pass a resolution authorizing the Council to issue an amicus brief in support of the developer in the pending case. City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) voted against the resolution.

The City Council voted to approve the overall $3 billion Willets Point project back in 2013 by a vote of 42-3.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito )D-Manhattan)said the project will provide Queens residents with local jobs and affordable housing and is “well within the scope of development authorized by state legislation.”

“The Willets Point Development Plan is the culmination of years of planning and millions of dollars of public investment and it’s time for the public to see a return,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement.

Queens Development Group praised the Council’s decision, saying it hopes the Court of Appeals, the local community board and others will follow suit.

“We are gratified that the City Council has reaffirmed its strong support for our unprecedented, private $3 billion investment in Queens that will reverse 100 years of pollution, create thousands of good-paying jobs and turn vacant lots into a vibrant neighborhood,” the company said in a statement.

The Willets West mall is part of the redevelopment of Willets Point into a new neighborhood with commercial, retail and residential space.

Ahead of the vote, Lancman said he would vote against supporting the proposal. He said the deal was sold as “being better than it actually turned out to be.” Work on the affordable housing portion of the project is scheduled to start in 2025.

“It was a bad deal that was constructed poorly in a way that left it vulnerable to legal challenges and now we have an opportunity to do a good deal, so why would we want to miss the opportunity to do a good deal that mandates affordable housing, provides living wages for retail workers and serves the public interest?” he said. “I don’t understand why we feel bound to this deal that was made in the Bloomberg era when we could get a much better deal with Mayor de Blasio.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) sent a letter to Mark-Viverito after learning of the resolution.

He called the vote “outrageous,” urging civic associations not to vote for Council members who voted in favor of the proposal when they are up for re-election.

“Shame on them, and there should be an investigation of this,” Avella said. “The city Council is acting on behalf of private developers. That’s an outrage,”

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) voted in favor of the resolution.

“Millions of public dollars have already been invested in this project and families, small businesses and workers need to see the benefits of the plan that was promised to Queens,” Ferreras said in a statement. “My community needs a solution that is swift and equitable.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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