Willets Opposition Vocal At Hearing
By ROSS BARKAN
|Proponents and detractors lined up in Corona to offer their opinions of the proposed Willets Point development.
Tribune Photo by Ross Barkan.
Despite claims that a new Willets Point is going revitalize a moribund scrap heap and herald a new, glittering era for Queens, critics of the project packed a public hearing on the project last week to condemn the Mayor’s proposal for a new entertainment venue at the site.
Many contrasting visions were offered for the neighborhood of auto repair shops at last week’s public scoping meeting at PS 19 in Corona. Hosted by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, the specific purpose of the Sept. 27 hearing was for the public to offer comments to be incorporated into a supplemental environmental impact statement for the City’s latest Willets Point development plan. The hearing became a soapbox for opponents of the project, who overwhelmed backers, to blast it for its perceived planning flaws and relative opacity.
“This review must…come to grips with the vehicular monstrosity the proposed development will surely create,” said Flushing resident Benjamin Haber. “Of particular importance is the Mayor’s and EDC’s attempt to blindside the enormous vehicular problem by simply talking about the construction of ramps to and from the Van Wyck Expressway…it must be exposed as a world class folly.”
In June, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the City Economic Development Corp. unveiled a new $3 billion multi-phase plan, the second in four years for Willets Point. It called for the creation of a million-square-foot shopping mall, residential units, hotels, a public school and even, according to NYCEDC attorney Ethan Goodman, a convention center. Related Companies and Sterling Equities, which is helmed by Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, won the rights to develop the first phase of the project.
Since the Willets Point development would encroach on New York City parkland, several opposition groups have recently rallied to oppose the plan. Critics also argue that the development will chase away the scores of small business owners that occupy Willets Point and that the increased traffic from such a development would create an unsustainable burden on already clogged highways and nearby local streets. Though affordable housing will be a part of the development, the City said the approximately 1,900 affordable units would not be completed until 2025, after the shopping mall is finished. Community Board 7, which incorporates Willets Point, was angered that they had no input in the City’s vision.
Still, a majority of elected officials and several unions have endorsed the development as a way to create jobs and build a new neighborhood that is more like downtown Flushing. The new development also dwarfs its original incarnation: 62 acres of proposed development in 2008 has now swelled to more than 100.
“The economic potential of the area will be more fully realized with the redevelopment and environmental clean-up that is planned,” said a representative of Borough President Helen Marshall.
Unions and real estate interests echoed Marshall.
“This development will bring affordable housing that so many middle- and low-income families in Queens need,” said 32BJ Service Employees International Union Vice President, Kyle Bragg, in a statement. “It will produce permanent jobs that pay enough for working people to support their families and contribute to the local economy.”
While the Real Estate Board, 32BJ and the Building and Trades Council all spoke in favor of the project, two opposition groups continually took to the microphone. Willets Point United, a collective of Willets Point property owners battling the City’s plans, and the Committee for the Defense of Willets Point, another collective representing the predominately Hispanic workforce of Willets Point, took turns blasting the development. Last year, the City broke ground on a $50 million sewer system for Willets Point after years of complaints from workers and property owners about decaying, or nonexistent, infrastructure.
“We don’t see the reason why the City wants to make rich people more rich,” said CDWP President Marco Neira. “We pay taxes every year and the conditions they keep us in are a shame on the City.”
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.