‘The city has not been cooperative’: Community board talks future of Willets Point project

Rendering of the Willets West redevelopment plan.
Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

After a recent court ruling stalled a $3 billion Flushing development plan yet again, community members expressed frustration with the city at a Monday meeting over what they call a failure to communicate.

At its quarterly Willets Point development meeting on June 26, the Community Board 7 Building and Zoning Committee focused on the next steps for the long-delayed development project on parkland near Citi Field.

Proposed by the Queens Development Group LLC (QDG), the plan was again halted by the New York State Court of Appeals earlier this month after it ruled that the first part of the two-phase plan, the “Willets West” retail development, could not move forward without approval from state legislature.

“At this point, the plan has been denied by the courts, stating that [the developers] cannot go forward with the current plan as shown,” Committee Chairperson Chuck Apelian said.

A legal representative for QDG, Ethan Goodman from Fox Rothschild, said the joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies is “huddling up internally” to determine the next course of action.

“[The mall] was a critical point of the project, and therefore, it throws a huge wrench in the entire plan,” Goodman said. “Since the QDG has always been fully committed to moving forward with the project as articulated, that can no longer happen without further action.”

The developers do have the option to approach the state legislature and request alienation, which would allow the group to build on the park land, Goodman explained. The city and the developers do also have the option to “go their separate ways.”

QDG currently has title to roughly an acre of the 23 total acres, Goodman said. The rest belongs to the city.

Goodman said that many of the board’s questions, including ones regarding recent cleanups and demolitions at the site, should be directed to the city. Apelian pointed out that the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Mayor de Blasio were notified about the meeting in advance, but did not send a representative.

“Number one, the mayor has his own agenda on this,” Apelian said. “And number two, the Councilwoman [Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who recently announced she would not seek re-election] is a lame duck at this point.”

The project’s future, Apelian continued, may depend on who takes the outgoing councilwoman’s seat in January.

“The city has not been cooperative,” Apelian said. “[NYCEDC and the mayor’s office] are not here tonight … It’s more than disappointing. It just shows the lack of transparency from the mayor’s office and EDC to help us and move forward with this thing. We’ve been patient.”

A spokesperson for the NYCEDC said that the agency was invited to the meeting one day before it was held and that the city has completed building abatement and demolition at the site. The agency has not completed site or soil remediation.

NYCEDC is currently in the process of evaluating next steps for the project.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to send a representative to the Community Board meeting on such short notice, but we look forward to continuing this discussion with them as we determine next steps for this important project,” the spokesperson said.

Marilyn McAndrews, board district manager, said there was earlier communication with the agency initiated by both QDG and the community board office.

“As we continue to review the very recent court order and our options, we very much look forward to engaging with local stakeholders and accelerating the affordable housing, schools, libraries, retail and open space this community has long been promised,” said Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio.

The CB 7 committee will meet again about the project in September. The group agreed that they would schedule an earlier meeting should the city make arrangements to send a representative sooner.