By Gina Martinez
The long-stalled Willets West mega-mall project will have another day in court next month when the Court of Appeals in White Plains hears oral arguments April 25 in an appeal of a lawsuit that blocked the project.
Willets Point is currently home to auto shops, unpaved roads and scrap yards. In 2013, the Bloomberg administration’s ambitious $3 billion redevelopment plan was approved by the city to transform it into a commercial and residential area. But the plan has caused controversy because the property to be redeveloped includes 47 acres of parkland worth about $1 billion, which cannot be sold or leased without authorization from the state Legislature.
In early 2014, state Sen. Tony Avella (D–Bayside), along with civic groups, business owners and residents, filed a lawsuit challenging the transfer of the land, and the Appellate Division First Department issued its unanimous decision July 2015, declaring “that construction of Willets West on city parkland without the authorization of the state Legislature violates the public trust doctrine.”
Later that year, the New York State Court of Appeals said it would hear an appeal by the developer, Queens Development Group, but the mega-project has since been stalled, and various alternatives have been proposed.
In there were rumors circulating that the New York Islanders hockey team was looking to relocate there from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The report came from Bloomberg News, which said the New York Islanders’ owners were in talks with owners of the New York Mets to build an arena adjacent to Citi Field in Flushing.
“Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’ owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements,” Bloomberg quoted an anonymous source as saying.
In her January “State of the Borough” address Queens Borough President Melinda Katz surprised many when she suggested a soccer or hockey arena for Willets Point.
“How about a hockey and soccer stadium?,” she said. “Just imagine if we, the World’s Borough, hosted the World Cup or the Stanley Cup. Willets Point is 62 acres. The market and constituencies are here, we have needs, and there is inherent demand.”
Avella said of the upcoming court date that he hopes the next court will follow the lead of the first.
“I can only hope that the Court of Appeals will join in the sound reasoning of the Appellate Division in protecting parkland,” he said.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart