Opponents of the Willet's Point West attempted land grab in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park gathered on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday and voiced their overwhelming opposition toward the mega-development project planned on more than 30 acres of public parkland.
Under the proposal a massive 1.4 million sq. ft. mall would be built in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on parkland currently used for Citi-Field parking. The majority of the land for the $3 billion Willets Point project would be taken from the public parkland.
Critics of the plan argue that if the 40-plus acres being proposed for mall use are no longer needed for parking then it should revert back to its original recreational use.
The City and Bloomberg-preferred developer the Related Companies in partnership with Sterling Equities, the real estate firm controlled by the owner of the Mets - are attempting this without seeking State Alienation legislation as is required under state law to use parkland for non-park purposes.
Critics denounced numerous issues regarding the Willets Point redevelopment project including:
- This was not the deal that the Council approved: The affordable housing component has been delayed and subject to escape clauses, and the agreed living wage provision has been eliminated;
- No project - let alone a 1.4 million square foot mall - should be built on public parkland;
- The City Administrative Code does not authorize or provide any legal basis for the construction of a mall on 30+ acres of parkland, in violation of the parkland Public Trust Doctrine;
- No massive development should be built in this area without new access ramps being built to and from the Van Wyck Expressway before any other construction;
- No private property should be taken to merely be paved over as a parking lot;
- Developers Sterling and Related were selected via a process that excluded the Willets Point Advisory Committee and Queens officials – contrary to written promises made by the City administration in 2008;
- The City must be compensated for the $200 million it has spent to buy Willets Point property;
- No team of billionaire developers should be given said property as a $1 gift;
- No developer who was part of an illegal lobbying scheme should be allowed to profit for engaging in the illegality;
- No development deal based on an illegal lobbying scheme should be approved by the City Council
Press Conference Statement from Irene Presti, Willets Point property owner:
My name is Irene Presti and I own property at Willets Point that is threatened by the illegal and unethical deal that the Bloomberg administration has put forward to develop the Iron Triangle.
That’s right, the entire development was promoted by a violation of not only the not for profit lobbying laws of New York State; but by the brazen violation of Federal law as well.
In order to promote this dirty deal the city helped to set up a phony not for profit local development group headed by Claire Shulman. The group, made up of rich developers with the names Muss, Wilpon, Mattone and TDC, was never anything but a not for profit but in name only-it was put in place to advance the special interest of its real estate company members.
Incredibly, NYC EDC forwarded $500,000 in tax payer funds to finance this illegal lobbying scheme.
Unfortunately, this LDC was barred from doing any legal lobbying from the standpoint of the NY State law on local development corporations. Don’t just take my word for it. In July of 2012, the NY State Attorney General cited the violation of the law but, shamefully, failed to do anything to sanction the illegal behavior.
Apparently, some people are considered to be above the law and the AG even failed to demand that the Shulman group refund the illegal contribution from EDC and the tax payers. So small property owners like myself were forced to fend off the big real estate companies who were publicly funded in the campaign to take away my property.
But it gets worse folks. When the Shulman group filed for tax exempt status with the IRS there are two important boxes it checked. The first was: Will you be doing any lobbying? The second was: will you be doing any economic development? The group, lying through its teeth, answered no to both questions-even though Shulman told the NY Times that the entire purpose of the group was to lobby for the Willets Point project.
Did the IRS act on this blatant violation of the federal not for profit laws? Not on your life. It was busy chasing the Tea Party and didn’t have the time to investigate and punish a clear violation of law. So on the state and the federal level, law enforcement is a partisan activity and justice be damned!
Now, however, it gets much worse. We see that Mr. Wilpon of the Mets-the prime mover of the illegal lobbying group- has been awarded the development rights to Willets West and $200 million worth of property for $1. And there is no one with the courage to step in and put an end to this criminal scheme. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
Not only that, but the entire original development deal has been changed in a breathless bait and switch that has eliminated the affordable housing and living wage pledges that were the heart of the approval in 2008. Instead of the “next green neighborhood” we have been given a huge mall and a parking lot. For this we are abusing the eminent domain process?
I am a proud member of Willets Point United. If my group had done what EDC, Wilpon and Shulman have conspired to do, we would be under arrest and awaiting trial. Instead, Shulman remains at large and Wilpon is poised to reap billions of dollars for evading the law and ripping off the tax payers.
Willets West is a scandal and the conspirators should not be rewarded for their illegal scheme. The city council must vote, No-and let the next mayor sort out this scandal.