City to continue push for affordable housing after Council megamall vote

City to continue push for affordable housing after Council megamall vote
Courtesy of Queens Development Group
By Madina Toure

As elected officials expressed mixed reactions on the City Council’s vote to support a developer’s legal appeal for the Willets West megamall proposal to proceed, the city said it remains concerned about the affordable housing component even though it backs the $3 billion Willets Point project.

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 Court of Appeals recently ruled 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 city said it supports the vision the Council approved but said the paperwork between the city Economic Development Corporation and Queens Development from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration did not include a timetable for delivery of affordable housing. Work on affordable housing is scheduled to start in 2025.

“Our priority is accelerating the affordable housing this community badly needs,” Wiley Norvell, deputy press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a statement. “The city will continue to work with all parties to deliver on that.”

The city, which backed out of the appeal, said the July appellate court ruling was decisive.

The City Council voted to approve the overall 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 said 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.”

“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.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) sent a letter to Mark-Viverito, 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.