Development of Willets Point Blocked on Appeal

Long View Rendering of 126th Street and Citi Field. Image Credit: NYC EDC.

Long View Rendering of 126th Street and Citi Field. Image Credit: NYC EDC.

Appellate panel found the authorization for private construction on parkland did not extend to a shopping mall.  On October 9, 2013, the City Council approved Queens Development Group’s planned 10-story, 200-room hotel and 30,000-square foot mall complex on the Willets Point West site, formerly the location of Shea Stadium.  The site was once the north end of Flushing Meadows Park until the state legislature authorized the stadium’s construction in 1961.  The development would anchor further construction of infrastructure improvements, mixed-income housing, and a school.  Since the stadium’s demolition in 2009, the site has served as a parking lot for Citi Field, but remains classified as parkland.

On February 10, 2014, State Senator Tony Avella, the City Club of New York, and local advocacy groups petitioned for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing the Council failed to abide by ULURP and the development violated the public trust doctrine. On August 15, 2014 Justice Manuel J. Mendez of New York Supreme Court in Manhattan dismissed the petition, ruling the legislation authorizing the Shea Stadium’s construction enumerated several purposes for use of Willets Point West including the improvement of trade and commerce, and a shopping mall would facilitate such an improvement. The petitioners appealed.

On July 6, 2015 a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department voted unanimously to overturn the lower court’s decision and enjoin progress of the development.  Justice Angela Mazzarelli, writing for the panel, read the legislation authorizing Shea Stadium’s construction more narrowly than the lower court. Justice Mazzarelli found the enumerated purposes listed in the legislation, including the improvement of trade and commerce, were intended to be considered in conjunction with operating a stadium and not considered in the abstract.

In a statement to CityLand, City Club president Michael Gruen said “[the ruling] is a solid victory on two fronts:  It confirms that parks are for the people and it confirms when the law says a park may not be used for non-park purposes except with the explicit and specific consent of the State Legislature, the City may not evade that.”

Avella v. NYC, 100161/14, NYLJ 1202731332057, at *1 (App. Div., 1st, Jul. 2, 2015) (Attorneys: John Low-Beer, for Avella; Zachary W. Carter, for NYC).

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014).

One thought on “Development of Willets Point Blocked on Appeal

  1. Parkland belongs to the people! Thank you, Senator Tony Avella, the City Club of New York and all of your supporters in this endeavor, including the Queens Civic Congress.
    What would people have said if this attempted land grab was happening in Central Park or Prospect Park? Most people would be outraged. Flushing Meadows Corona Park deserves the same respect.
    Now let’s see the portion of the park that was going to be changed to a mall used for appropriate recreational and green space!

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