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Court gives city a shot at a better deal

By Rory Lancman

Recently, I voted against authorizing the City Council to file an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief, with the Court of Appeals, asking the state’s highest court to overturn a lower court’s decision that the Bloomberg administration’s plan to sell parkland to build a shopping mall at Citi Field (technically, part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park) improperly bypassed the state Legislature. This is an important safeguard against the permanent giveaway of cherished public spaces for minimal public benefit.

Normally, the Council only votes on land use proposals once. When the lower-level court ruled that using the land in question for a shopping mall would improperly alienate parkland without the authorization of the state Legislature, however, we were given a second chance.

The original Willets West deal was negotiated during the Bloomberg administration, and it represents development priorities that are very different from the ones this Council stands for. The last administration didn’t believe in affordable housing the way we do, which is why the Council had to settle for a deal where the developers can build a hotel and a shopping mall years before they break ground on the affordable housing—if they ever build any affordable housing at all.

The last administration didn’t believe in living wages the way this Council does. That’s why the deal included no provisions to guarantee that retail workers at the shopping mall would receive a wage where they could support a family. As we looked over the exact terms of this deal before the vote, it felt like the claw of the Bloomberg administration was reaching up from the grave to force us to accept its old affordable housing and living wage policies or lack thereof.

Our city today is different than it was when this deal was first cut. The court has given us a gift—an opportunity to cut a better deal. A deal with a real affordable housing and living wage commitment.

There may be an appropriate commercial use for this piece of land, but it is not this giant mall that will be built long before the community sees improvements. As this case progresses through the court, I am hopeful that the current ruling will stand, and that we will be able to negotiate a deal that benefits all of us.

Rory Lancman

(D-Hillcrest)

New York City Council

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