Council Hears Testimony on Willets Point Proposal

Business owners criticize EDC’s $3 billion remediation and redevelopment plan for a new Willets Point. Image: NYC EDC.

Concerns over displacement of businesses dominated hearing. On June 13, 2007, the City Council’s Land Use Committee and its Economic Development Committee held a joint oversight hearing on the proposal by New York City’s Economic Development Corporation to redevelop 61 acres of Willets Point in Queens. The site, located directly east of Shea Stadium, is mostly privately owned and currently home to a mix of automobile related, light industrial and manufacturing businesses. EDC estimates that 250 businesses employing about 1,300 people operate from the area. Much of the site lacks paved roads, sewers, or sidewalks and is heavily contaminated from illegal dumping, leaky underground tanks, and spills.

EDC President Robert Lieber presented a redevelopment plan for the area, which would remediate the environmental contamination and raise the grade to bring the area out of the 100-year flood plain. After gaining control of the property, EDC would seek to rezone it from industrial (M3-1) to mixed-use (C4- 4) with a special district overlay, remap many of its streets, and create an urban renewal plan to guide future development. EDC plans to start the public approval process in fall 2007, allowing it to select developers to implement the plan in summer 2008.

The rezoning would facilitate 8.9 million sq.ft. of new developable floor area. At this stage, EDC proposes a development plan including 5.5 million sq.ft. of residential space, 1.7 million sq.ft. of retail, 500,000 sq.ft. of office space, and a 960,000-squarefoot convention center and hotel directly across from Shea Stadium. The plan also calls for 150,000 sq.ft. of community facility space, a 100,000- square-foot public school, 11,000 parking spaces, and eight acres of public open space. Lieber estimated the cost to be over $3 billion, the bulk of which EDC anticipates will come from private investment.

Council Member and Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz criticized EDC’s decision to seek land use approvals before selecting a developer to execute the plan, saying that EDC was asking the City Council to “approve an unknown.” Other Council members questioned EDC’s plan to develop the entire site, as opposed to a more piecemeal method that would allow some of the existing businesses to remain. Lieber in reply stressed the extent of the environmental contamination and claimed that the area’s remediation needs required a full 61-acre site cleanup.

In response to questions on how the City will obtain the land, Lieber said EDC planned to negotiate with the current owners, but he would not rule out the use of eminent domain. When pressed on the issue by Council Member Tony Avella, Lieber cited to Mayor Bloomberg’s statement from May 1, 2007 that the City would not let one person hold up the project. Lieber also explained that land owners would be offered money commensurate with the site’s current zoning, not the new zoning that would come into effect if the City approved EDC’s plan. This prompted Katz to comment that since the land value would increase after the rezoning, it might create an incentive for people to hold out.

Business owners and workers from the area attended the hearing and generally opposed the proposal. Dan Feinstein, the third generation owner of Feinstein Iron Works, accused the City of decades of neglect in Willets Point, adding that the failure to build roads and sewers was now being followed by a plan to completely take the land. Jerry Antonacci, who with his brother operates the hauling company that his father opened in 1959, said that he wants to stay on the land that his family has owned for nearly 50 years. Pointing to the ceiling of the Council Chambers, where a quote from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address declares “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Antonacci observed,“I think Lincoln wrote that for us.”

Council: Oversight Hearing on Willets Point Redevelopment (June 13, 2007).


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