EDC Submits Willets Point Redevelopment Plan

City seeks to create a Special Willets Point District; local businesses file lawsuit. On April 21, 2008, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development began public consideration for their proposal to rezone a 61-acre area in Willets Point.

The area, roughly bounded by the Van Wyck Expressway, Roosevelt Avenue, 126th Street, and Northern Boulevard, is known as the “Iron Triangle” for its predominantly industrial and auto service-related character. According to EDC, Willets Point is in desperate need of redevelopment and suffers from extensive environmental contamination, numerous building code violations, poor road and sidewalk conditions, and limited storm and sanitary sewer infrastructure. EDC’s proposal seeks to transform this area into a mixed-use district complete with residential, retail, hotel, convention center, entertainment, and commercial office uses. 4 CityLand 165 (Dec. 2007).

Under the plan, the area would no longer be zoned M3-1, which allows heavy industrial uses that generate noise, traffic, and pollutants. The proposed C4-4 zoning would introduce a range of nonindustrial uses into Willets Point and increase the maximum FAR from 2.0 to 3.4.

The plan would also create a Special Willets Point District with a residential zone, a convention center zone, and a commercial and entertainment zone adjacent to CitiField. The Special District would limit the full range of C4 uses, but would allow certain as-of-right developments that would otherwise require a special permit from the Department of City Planning or BSA, such as a convention center, a parking garage with more than 225 spaces, a physical culture establishment or gym, and an eating and drinking establishment. Auto service establishments, which currently occupy roughly 80 percent of the lots in the area, would be prohibited under the new zoning.

Lastly, the plan calls for an Urban Renewal Area, which would permit 5.85 million sq.ft. of residential space and 3.16 million sq.ft. of commercial space. The plan is now with Queens Community Board 7 for its review.

Meanwhile, a group of Willets Point businesses have filed a lawsuit against the City, accusing it of purposefully neglecting the area in order to drive down the value of their property, which the City will then acquire by eminent domain. The complaint states that the City’s plans endanger 225 businesses that employ up to 1,800 workers, 90 percent of whom are full-time and 75 percent of whom live locally in Queens.

The plaintiffs allege that the City violated their right to equal protection and due process by not providing them with the same services that it provides similar communities zoned for manufacturing, such as Hunts Point in the Bronx and Red Hook in Brooklyn. The plaintiffs also claim that the City’s failure to provide certain infrastructure created and perpetuated a private and public nuisance, exemplified by the dust from unpaved roads and the flooding from inadequate sewers. Lastly, the plaintiffs note that prior land use studies of Willets Point, one in 1991 by the precursor of EDC and another in 1993 by the Bronx Borough President, placed the City on notice of the area’s deterioration.

CPC: Application – Willets Point Development Plan (080 381 ZMQ – map amend., N 080 382 ZRQ – text amend., 080 383 HGQ – est. special district, 080 384 HUQ – designate urban renewal area, 080 385 HDQ – disp. of property, and 080 221 MMQ – City map amend.) (Apr. 21, 2008). Willets Point Industry and Realty Assoc. v. New York City, Index No. 1453/08 (E.D.N.Y. April 9, 2008) (Garaufis, J.) (Michael B. Gerrard, for plaintiffs).

CITYLAND Comment: On April 21, 2008, 29 Council Members sent a joint letter to Deputy Mayor Robert C. Lieber in opposition to the Willets Point Plan, stating that it is “deeply flawed” because it does not include any “guarantees that the displaced workers and small businesses will be treated fairly or compensated with meaningful benefits.”

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