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Willets Pt. plan goes to Council for final vote
By Joe Anuta

A crucial city agency voted to approve the $3 billion Willets Point project Wednesday, sending the proposal to its last stop: the City Council.

The City Planning Commission voted to approve the project, where developers plan to initially clean toxic soil on 23 acres of the Iron Triangle, construct retail outlets and a hotel on the east side of Citi Field and build a 1.4-million-square-foot mall to the west.

After the city makes good on a promise to complete additional ramps off the Van Wyck Expressway in 2024, the joint venture of Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the New York Mets, will build both market rate and affordable housing.

“With today’s approval, we are one step closer to reversing a century of contamination at Willets Point and creating a vibrant destination that will generate thousands of new jobs, housing, retail and open space for local residents,” the joint venture said in a statement.

City Planning will then deliver its verdict to the Council, which will trigger a 50-day window in which lawmakers must decide to approve, modify or strike down the proposal.

Earlier this month, EDC sent letters to 90 of the auto shop and scrap businesses that make up the gritty neighborhood offering them a year’s rent in exchange for clearing out by the end of November.

But activist and Willets Point tenant Marco Neira said 12 month’s rent at Willets Point would not cover the cost of moving to a more expensive location.

“We don’t accept this letter, because it offers nothing,” he said, adding that the businesses there operate as a symbiotic whole and have not wavered in their request to move as a group.

This offer, he insisted, incentives businesses to move out piecemeal.

City officials countered that claim, indicating there is nothing preventing businesses from pooling their payouts — which are completely separate from an existing $9 million fund administered by the city Housing Department to aid in relocation.

Only one business has successfully moved from the Iron Triangle to date, though a handful more are currently in the process.

A group of 55 businesses called the Sunrise Cooperative is also negotiating with the city to try and get funds to move as a group.

This new pot is valued at $3.5 million, and will be doled out on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to the city, which credited City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) with helping to obtain the cash.

“Thanks to the Council member’s partnership and leadership in this effort, $3.5 million in additional city funding has been identified in order to provide further assistance, which will help these businesses to relocate and ensure that this transformative neighborhood redevelopment will continue,” EDC said in a statement

The Council’s vote will hinge on Ferreras’ opinion, since the project lies within her district, though the lawmaker has not publicly come out for or against the proposal.

Critics blasted her for the buyouts, citing a 2009 interview where she pledged to fight for group relocation until the end of the process.

The lawmaker said all options are still on the table.

“I have always advocated for the EDC to relocate the Willets Point businesses as a group,” she said in a statement. “There are ongoing negotiations to make sure that these businesses are given a fair deal by the EDC and any potential developers. I will continue to advocate for my constituents.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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