After an intense debate and hours of comments from the general public, Community Board 7 ultimately voted to approve the Willets Point Redevelopment Plan.
The board voted on May 13 in approval of the project 22 to 18, after the Building and Zoning Committee changed its mind from last week and voted to pass the motion. The reason for the switch was a group of commitments from the Queens Development Group, a joint venture between Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the New York Mets, which addressed many of the board members’ concerns.
The environmental cleanup of the contaminated 23-acre site in Willets Point is the first step of the project, expected to begin next year and be completed in 2015. From there, the joint venture will construct the retail and hotel portions of the project along 126th Street, move the Citi Field parking into the Willets Point area and build the Willets West entertainment and retail center. The 126th Street part will be done in 2016 and the Willets West mall will be complete by 2018.
Before the full Willets Point project, which includes the housing, can be built, new on- and off-ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway will be constructed by the City. Construction is set to begin in 2021 and completed by 2024. The CB asked that the ramp time-table be moved up.
Once the ramps are up, construction will start on the new mixed-use community, which will feature 2,500 units of new housing, 875 which will be affordable, local retail, supermarkets and a new pre-k through eighth grade school with around 1,000 seats and outdoor space. This final phase will begin in 2024.
While the Buildings Committee voted against the Willets Point proposal by a count of seven to two last week, Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian said the group met again before the general CB 7 because they had new information on which they could base a new motion.
“Absent another motion, we don’t have a recommendation for the community board. What took place at that point of discussion was whether or not there would be any further discussion, any further information, anything at all that might take place to go forward,” he said. “Over the course of the last four days, that dialogue has taken place. We knew that we had something to talk about.”
The commitments that satisfied many board members had to do with parking, traffic reduction and hiring practices.
For traffic, the City will make sure it is 100 percent computerized by the time phase one is completed. The Joint Venture rep stated that there will be a 65 percent reduction in traffic impacts when compared to the original 2008 plan. In terms of hiring for the Willets Point project, 25 percent of the work force will be locals. The joint venture also said they will either keep at least 400 handicapped parking spaces along Citi Field at their current location or they will move them to a similar placement around the stadium.
During the general meeting, many speakers came forward to argue both for, but mostly against the project. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ethan Goodman, an urban planner and project manager with the joint ventures, said.
“If this project does not move forward, Queens will miss out on thousands of jobs and a vibrant new neighborhood,” Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said.
“The only guarantee that we have right here in this project is that a mall, a hotel and a retail center is going to happen,” Ivan Contreras, of the Queens Housing Coalition, said.
“Does everyone in this room look forward to early September 2018 when there’s a Mets game, the U.S. Open, a mall, a hotel, a soccer stadium, no ramps and traffic as far as the eye can see?,” asked Ralph Paterno.
“We don’t need any more malls,” Yvette Ramirez, from Make the Road New York, said.
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