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Council votes in favor of $3 billion Willets Point redevelopment project
By Phil Corso and Joe Anuta

The City Council approved the controversial $3 billion redevelopment plan at Willets Point Wednesday, giving a green light to the project that supporters say will transform the blighted Iron Triangle area with housing and a new mega mall.

The 42-3-1 vote marked the end of a second round of a contentious public approval process, ultimately giving Sterling Equities and the Related Cos. the go-ahead to move forward. As concessions, developers will give the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance a total of $15 million and another $2.6 million to a rooftop farm to be built at the mega mall, according to Council hearings.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) first opposed the plan but came around after making sure the project offered adequate affordable housing.

“After many long years of reviewing this proposal and taking my district’s needs into account, I am confident that this development will be a win for my constituents, a win for Willets Point and a win for the great City of New York,” she said. “For the first time in history, the 21st Council District will finally have affordable housing, and in addition, all the other community benefits made possible through the agreement between the administration and developers will undoubtedly have major positive impact for my constituents.”

The developers now have clearance to begin cleaning the contaminated soil on 23 acres of the property before building a hotel and retail along 126th Street and then constructing the mall.

But some observers believe that groups representing tenants of the Iron Triangle will take the matter to court.

Philip Lippman, of the Save Willets Point organization, said the area has been long neglected by the city and those who work at the site deserve better.

“The city has never built roads, sewers or even given basic services which every other neighborhood in New York has received, such as snow removal or garbage removal,” he said. “Business owners have been offered a very small compensation that won’t even cover their moving costs. The amount offered to them is contingent on whether they sign this month or next month, and if they do not sign and agree to move, they will receive no compensation at all and will just be evicted.”

The Council had already approved the Willets Point redevelopment project in 2008, but when Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration announced this spring that it had selected the joint venture as the developers, it was revealed the new plan included a 1.4-million-square-foot mall to be sited in the western parking lot of Citi Field.

The development discussion became a much greater, defining aspect of Bloomberg’s 12 years in office and came before the Council in the final months of his tenure.

“Today’s City Council vote is a critical milestone in the history of Willets Point, which for generations has been known as a contaminated ‘valley of ashes,’” Bloomberg said. “Now, thanks to the collective efforts of our administration and local leaders, we can begin cleaning up and transforming Willets Point into a new neighborhood that, when fully realized, will be anchored by nearly 6,000 new housing units, including more than 2,000 that will be reserved for low- and middle-income New Yorkers.”

Bloomberg said the project would usher in a new era of modern infrastructure and commercialization along with 7,100 permanent jobs as well as 12,000 construction jobs in the coming years.

Had the partnership not proposed to build the mall, it could have proceeded without an additional review process.

But because the plan required parking spaces to be moved from the proposed mall’s footprint to the actual Willets Point district — a use not originally envisioned — Sterling and Related had to go back for a second round.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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