Board 7 fumes over ‘wasted time’ as Willets Point development spins its wheels

Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

Community members demanded to be “part of the process” while plans for a long-awaited Flushing development project continue to hang in the balance.

On Jan. 10, local leaders and city officials met at the quarterly Community Board 7 Willets Point committee meeting to discuss updates to a $3 billion development proposal made by the Queens Development Group LLC (QDG).

The two-phase development plan first proposed in 2013 by QDG, a joint venture between Sterling Equities and Related Companies, included plans to construct a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, public school and affordable housing on land surrounding Citi Field.

In June 2017, phase-one plans for the project came to a halt after the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that QDG’s development proposal on public parkland, the 23-acre “Willets West” portion, would not be able to move forward without approval from state legislature.

Councilman Francisco Moya, who just weeks ago replaced former Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland in District 21, was present for the Jan. 10 meeting.

“I’m here now, and I’m a very hands-on kind of member,” Moya said to attendees. “For me, it’s very important that your voice is heard.”

Moya said his office has already made plans to have “real meetings with the appropriate people about where this [plan] is.” He also called for the creation of a community advisory council, which would give the community a venue to voice their thoughts and concerns with the project.

Moya speaks to board members
Moya speaks to board members

“[The city has] been very clear about not moving on anything until we have had those discussions,” the lawmaker said.

City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) spokesperson Eleni Bourinaris told attendees that conversations between QDG and the city are ongoing. QDG currently has title to less than two of the 23 total acres; the rest belongs to the city.

“It sounds to me like we’re not getting the full conversation,” board member Joe Sweeney said. “We’re not in the loop. We want to be in the loop and give our valid input.”

“We want this community board at the table as we continue our conversations,” Bourinaris replied. “We’re not at that point just yet.”

Board members were audibly dissatisfied with the response.

“We don’t want this ‘seat at the table,'” Sweeney fired back. “We want you guys — it’s our tax money — [to] come here, sit here. Let’s have a discussion.”

After a few more members expressed concerns about the project timeline, Bourinaris said the city is “looking to advance [the project] as quickly as possible.”

“The mayor has said he wants to accelerate the timeline,” she said.

Affordable housing remains a priority in the plan, the city spokesperson added.

“You’re telling me when they knew this lawsuit was coming there wasn’t a contingency plan?” Board 7 Chairperson Gene Kelty asked to EDC reps. “I’m getting tired of my time being wasted.”

“I hear the frustration in the room, and I understand it,” Moya said. “My goal is to help alleviate some of that frustration because, like you, I want to make sure that we can get the best deal possible … Your input is extremely critical to getting this deal done right.”

Similar frustrations were vented by board members at the previous meeting in September, where another EDC representative told attendees there was “not much to report” before presenting images of some demolition work the city completed at the site.

It was also noted that the contract has a provision that allows both the city and the developer the option to terminate the development agreement with notice.

“I think it’s clear to the administration that we want full transparency — not a one-way mirror,” Building and Zoning Committee Chairperson Chuck Apelian said. “We want to be part of this process, and if they expect our support, then we expect that they’ll include us into the design process and selection process as far as what Willets [Point] is going to look like.”