Willets Point Group Denied Equal Protection Claim

Willets Point Boulevard, near 38th Avenue, in Queens. Photo: CityLand.

City chose not to heavily invest in Willets Point infrastructure. In November 2008, the City Council approved a $3 billion development plan for Willets Point, an industrial neighborhood in northern Queens. When implemented, the plan would transform the low-end commercial area into a mixed-use community with residential, retail, hotel, and entertainment uses. Under the plan, the City could utilize eminent domain to acquire property needed for development. The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, an organization of local businesses, sued the City. The Association argued that the City violated its equal protection rights by choosing not to provide services and infrastructure in Willets Point over the last 40 years. The Association claimed that this decision was an attempt to reduce property values so that the City could more easily justify the use of eminent domain and could acquire properties for lower prices. The 2008 development plan, according to the Association, was the City’s latest attempt to reduce property values.

District Court Judge Edward R. Korman dismissed the Association’s lawsuit. Judge Korman ruled that the Association’s equal protection claim had no merit because the City had a rational basis for not spending money or other resources in Willets Point until a comprehensive redevelopment plan was finalized. The unique conditions of Willets Point, including an oddly designed street system and unusual soil composition, led City officials to conclude that greater investment in the area could not be rationally justified unless the area was redeveloped for non-industrial uses.

Judge Korman also ruled that even if the Association’s complaint had stated a cause of action, the court could not grant an injunction forcing the City to construct and maintain infrastructure in Willets Point. The Association had waited 40 years before filing a lawsuit to stop the City from allegedly depriving the neighborhood of vital infrastructure. The court concluded that there was no reasonable excuse for the delay.

Willets Point Industry and Realty Assoc. v. City of New York, 2009 U.S. Dist. Lexis 110181 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 25, 2009) (Korman, J.) (Attorneys: Michael B. Gerrard, for Association; Michael A. Cardozo, Chris Reo, Daniel Greene, Amanda Goad, for NYC).

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