Willets Point Proposal Heard at City Planning Commission

Aerial rendering of the Willets Point proposal. Image Credit: EDC.

Aerial rendering of the Willets Point proposal. Image Credit: EDC.

23-acre proposal will include environmental cleanup, expressway ramps, affordable housing, and retail and entertainment complex. The City Planning Commission held a public hearing on land use actions to facilitate Phase 1 of the Willets Point Development Project on July 10, 2013. The application was submitted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Queens Development Group, LLC, a joint venture of Sterling Equities and Related Companies. Phase 1, to be split into Phase 1A and 1B, includes environmental cleanup, economic improvements, mixed use developments, parking, and infrastructure improvements on a portion of the 61-acre Special Willets Point District in Queens on the west and east sides of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

The Special Willets Point District was approved by the City Council in 2008. The rezoning was controversial; area businesses and residents were concerned over the relocation of businesses, the possibility of eminent domain, and traffic congestion. As a result, a lawsuit was filed against the City by business owners and residents but was dismissed by the New York County Supreme Court in 2010. EDC published a request for proposals in May 2011, asking developers to propose plans for Phase 1 of the development. In June 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the City had come to an agreement with the Queens Development Group for Phase 1 of the development plans.

As proposed in the plan, Phase 1A is scheduled to begin in 2014 with environmental remediation of, and demolition of the existing structures on, a 23-acre section of the Special Willets Point District. Much of the site is currently occupied by junkyards and automotive repair businesses. The contamination of the site includes ash, which was historically dumped there, petroleum, and various vehicle fluids. The district lacks sanitary sewers and adequate storm sewers. The district is also on a 100-year flood plain and is adjacent to the Flushing Bay, which makes grade changes a necessary component of redevelopment. After remediation is complete, in approximately 2015, the Queens Development Group would develop 30,000 sq.ft. of ground floor retail and a 200-room hotel on 126th Street, on the eastern side of Citi Field. Temporary surface parking with approximately 2,833 spaces for Citi Field attendants would surround the development. During the baseball off-season, the parking area would be used for active recreational space such as basketball courts and a driving range. By 2016, Phase 1A would continue with development of a 1.4 million square foot entertainment and retail structure on a Citi Field parking lot west of the stadium. The existing spaces would be relocated to areas south of the stadium. Phase 1A would be completed in 2018.

In the interim between Phase 1A and 1B and beginning in 2021, the City has committed to fund construction of new Van Wyck Expressway ramps where the expressway crosses Northern Boulevard, to be completed in 2024.

Phase 1B would begin in 2025 and completed by 2028. The Queens Development Group would expand the development along 126th Street to form a mixed use neighborhood, roughly bordered by 126th Street, 35th Avenue, 127th Street, and Roosevelt Avenue. The development would include 2,490 units of housing, 35% of which would be affordable, 905,000 sq.ft. of retail, 500,000 sq.ft. of office space, 25,000 sq.ft. of community facility space, and an additional 290 hotel rooms. Additionally, the neighborhood would feature a new public school and more than 6 acres of publicly accessible open space.

Map of planned phases for Willets Point proposal (click to view larger image). Image Credit: Google.

Map of planned phases for Willets Point proposal (click to view larger image). Image Credit: Google.

The applicants seek a zoning text amendment to the Special Willets Point District regulations that would allow for the planned recreational, hotel, and retail uses in the parking areas via the use of special permits.

Queens Borough President, Helen M. Marshall recommended approval of the proposal with conditions, asking for regular progress meetings between the community boards, borough president, and the developer, and various commitments to affordable housing, ramp work, and local hiring practices. Queens Community Board 7 approved the application with conditions as well, requesting water testing, traffic mitigation, and a sooner construction time for the ramps. Queens Community Board 3 disapproved the application because it disagreed with the use of parkland for a mall and delayed construction of the affordable housing component.

At the City Planning Commission hearing on July 10, 2013, Robert F. Goldrich, Senior Policy Advisor to Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel answered questions from the commissioners concerning the relocation of existing businesses. Goldrich testified that the City is working with local Council Member Julissa Ferreras, the EDC, and the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to plan for relocation. He said that the City has successfully acquired about 95 percent of the properties on the 23-acre portion to be developed during Phase 1, which includes approximately 100 businesses that will have to relocate. He said the City hopes to reach agreements with the remaining 5 percent of properties and not have to acquire the properties through the use of eminent domain. David Quart, Senior Vice President of Development at the EDC testified that in order for Willets Point to be successful, development must come in planned phases. First, environmental cleanup is needed, then, the retail and hotel development will be the first economic drivers for the area. Only after an income stream is generated can the residential component be developed. He also testified that although the area is parkland, all of the uses in the proposal are allowed by the Special Willets Point District.

The proposal awaits a decision by the City Planning Commission and will then be sent to the City Council for approval.

CPC: Willets Point Development Project (N 130220 ZRQ – text amendment); (C 130222 ZSQ – special permit); (C 130223 ZSQ – special permit); (C 130224 ZSQ – special permit); (C 130225 ZSQ – special permit) (July 10, 2013).

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