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Willets Point Development Is Back On

Willetts Point rendering Willetts Point rendering/ (NYCEDC image).

NEW YORK CITY—The city project to build up a relatively undeveloped area in Willets Point, where individual automobile repair shops had set up shop, will soon begin construction of its first phase. The $3 billion plan, initiated during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, has been significantly modified, eliminating its original 200-store mega-mall and garage ambitions.

Instead the Willets Point development will prioritize constructing three buildings that will house 1,100 affordable apartments. Of these homes, 220 will be for low-income seniors, 99 will be for formerly homeless families, and 781 will be for families of three with specified numbers of units set aside for various income brackets ranging from $25,770 to no more than $111,670.

The prior plan had included 2,500 housing units, of which 875 were to be affordable.

The development will be built on six acres at Willets Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, adjacent to Citi Field, home to the New York Mets. It will also include a 450-student public elementary school and public open space.

The Queens Borough president, Melinda Katz, and city council member representing Corona, Queens, Francisco Moya, will chair a task force to recommend what to do with the remaining 17 acres of the development site.

The developers will continue to be Related Companies and Sterling Equities which had formed the Queens Development Group. Sterling Equities was co-founded by the majority owner and managing partner of the Mets, Fred Wilpon, with his brother-in-law, Saul B. Katz, who is also the president of the baseball team.

“The project delivers big on the number-one priority for people in Queens: finding an affordable place to live,” says Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It’s time to jumpstart Willets Point, and we are doing that by building more than a thousand homes for seniors and families struggling to make ends meet.”

The city’s plans to clear out the automobile shop businesses operating in the area amidst the streets and pavements in need of repairs had been met with resistance. A group of 50 of the shops, which joined together as the Sunrise Cooperative, had filed a lawsuit against the developers, alleging the displacement of their businesses was illegal. This delayed the project. However, as reported in GlobeSt.com, in 2015 the case had settled and the co-op moved to a facility in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.

Willets Point Open for Business Willets Point auto repair business (Image: Willets Point: Open for Business, July 2017).

Under the Bloomberg administration, the city had acquired 95% of the land for the development to move forward. However, the New York Times reported that in a legal challenge to the eminent domain proceedings, in 2015 a state court had ruled the planned mall could not be built in the parking lot next to Citi Field. As park land, only the state legislature could convert its use to another purpose.

The paper reported that Mayor de Blasio had declined to join the developers in appealing that decision. However, most of the junk yards and shops had since left, with the area currently marked by many vacant lots.

The city will retain ownership of the property, using a long-term ground lease for the six-acre site. The prior proposal would have sold the 23-acre property to the developers. Now, the plan is for the developers to environmentally clean the toxic materials present at the site by 2020 and to complete construction of the first 500 affordable apartments by 2022.

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