Critics, Supporters of Willets Point Plan To Meet Today

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The New York Sun

With more than half of the City Council in “absolute opposition” to the Bloomberg administration’s $3 billion plan to redevelop Willets Point in Queens, the two sides will square off today at a city Planning Commission public hearing at New York University.

Representatives from the city are expected to argue that the 75-acre Willets Point site, which has no sidewalks or sewers, has fallen into such environmental disrepair that there is little alternative to a full-scale redevelopment project.

A new engineering study commissioned by the city will show that the site has lost several feet in elevation over the last few decades and must be replaced in order to build any kind of viable storm water and drainage infrastructure, a person with knowledge of the study said.

The study also will show that installing a working storm sewer system throughout the site will be impossible without causing flooding to the existing buildings.

Opposition will center on a letter written by a local council member, Hiram Monserrate, and signed by 31 other council members, which was sent to the planning commissioner, Amanda Burden.

“We are deeply disappointed that the process thus far has, in effect, negated previous efforts to create a standard for community engagement in city development projects,” the letter reads. “Simply put, we will not allow the Willets Point model to become a precedent for future development projects in the city. Before this project proceeds to a doomed fate in the City Council, we strongly urge the Administration to come to the table and work with us to address and resolve the issues of the Willets Point community.”

Support for the project will hinge on addressing community concerns about affordable housing, fair market compensation, traffic mitigation, and the assurance that eminent domain will not be used in any of the acquisition negotiations, the letter says.

The wording of the letter mirrors that of one sent in April — then signed by 29 council members — expressing similar opposition.

With just 16 months left in his final term, Mayor Bloomberg has made the proposed development of the site near Shea Stadium a top development priority before he leaves office. In recent weeks, the city’s Economic Development Corporation has announced that it has reached deals with four local business owners, though dozens more remain.

The plan has earned a vote of approval from the president of Queens, Helen Marshall, and won the support of the local community board. However, approval by the 51-member City Council is necessary for the plan to move forward and a vote will not occur till November.

Today’s hearing is shaping up to be a spirited affair. Dueling rallies are planned outside the public hearing by a coalition of elected officials, environmentalists, and civic organizations in favor of the mixed-use development plan.

The Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, a group of land and business owners who control more than 50% of the privately held land in Willets Point, will hold a rally and press conference before the hearing.

Public comment also will extend to the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning and the Hunter’s Point South Plan.

The Planning Commission is not expected to take any action.

The New York Sun

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