City Council votes to take up lawsuit over Willets Point development

The site of the Willets Point retail and residential development plan is located in a parking lot adjacent to Citifield.
THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

The City Council voted on Wednesday to file an amicus brief siding with Willets Point developers appealing a State Supreme Court decision which bars the construction of a $3 billion residential and commercial hub near Citi Field.

Queens Councilmen Rory Lancman and Paul Vallone were the only two representatives to vote against the resolution and Councilman Barry Grodenchik abstained, according to sources close to City Hall.

“I am not unalterably opposed to a commercial use for this parcel of land, but only in the context of a broader deal that commensurately benefits the public, including an affordable housing mandate and a living wage guarantee for retail workers,” Lancman said.

Vallone remarked that he thought it was beyond the Council’s purview to interfere with another branch of government.

“I voted no on this resolution as the City Council has already voted on this project and the decision should be left to the courts,” Vallone said.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland — who represents the area — voted in favor of filing the brief.

“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-Copeland said. “My community needs a solution that is swift and equitable.”

The New York State Court of Appeals decided in late November that it would consider the Queens Development Group’s appeal to review a decision against allowing the construction of a million-square-foot mall and affordable housing units in the area.

The ruling followed a suit against the Queens Development Group — a partnership of Related Companies and Sterling Equities — brought on by state Senator Tony Avella and park advocates.

The court decided in favor of the petitioners, who argued that the plan could not go forward because the space is designated public parkland as part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the developers did not acquire the proper authorization necessary to transfer the land to a nonpublic entity.

According to the Legal Institute of Cornell, an amicus brief can be filed by a person or group who is not a party to a lawsuit, but has a strong interest in the matter. It is used to petition the court for permission to submit a brief with the intent of influencing the court’s decision.

The resolution states that the Council will file the brief in order to uphold their prior approval of the Willets Point development plan, which approved the proposal’s land-use applications in 2008 and designated the site an urban renewal area.