Two days before the New York City Council is set to issue a preliminary but critical verdict on a $3 billion plan to build a huge retail complex at Willets Point, Queens, local officials have raised the ante. They have asked for the city to guarantee it will pay $70 million for traffic ramps leading into the development, which will ultimately include hotel and residential space, from the Van Wyck Expressway.
On Wednesday, two City Council subcommittees are set to vote on the plan, one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's biggest economic development projects. His administration has already spent more than five years and millions of dollars putting it together. From the subcommittees, the plan will go in front of the full City Council as early as next week for a final vote. Usually, the wider Council votes in line with the decisions of its subsidiary committees.
The city has previously pledged to pay for the ramps, but the funds have not yet been allocated to the project in the city's capital budget. The Council, including Councilwoman Julissa Ferraras, whose district encompasses Willets Point and who is negotiating with the city, is asking that the ramps be woven into a deal the city arranged last year with the massive project's developers, The Related Cos. and Sterling Equities.
In response, Willets Point United has issued an open letter to the Council Members:
Apparently, you are DISREGARDING a primary objection of the community to the entire proposed project: the 1.4 million square foot shopping mall that would be built on 30+ acres of Queens parkland. Opposition to that mall on public parkland includes the Queens Civic Congress, which consists of 100+ civic associations throughout Queens; the Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance, which recognizes that a mall at that location will destroy and displace numerous family-run businesses in Corona and Jackson Heights; and Queens Community Board 3, which voted 30-1 to DENY this application in part because CB3 opposes the mall on parkland; among many other groups that are opposed because of the MALL.
Regardless of whether or not the City provides $70 million for highway ramps, the community DOES NOT WANT THE PROJECT, because of the mall on parkland. Therefore, if you respect the will of the people, you will vote "NO".
But even if you succeed in obtaining an ironclad guarantee from the City of $70 million for highway ramps – and we don't believe an ironclad guarantee is possible now – that alone still does NOTHING to guarantee the housing and affordable housing, which a large sector of project opponents wants to see built. That's because regardless of the availability of $70 million, the project contract between Sterling/Related and NYCEDC still allows Sterling/Related to pay a cost-of-doing-business penalty of $35 million (in 2025), and build NO housing. Moreover, simply setting aside $70 million for highway ramps does not alter the text of the contract which states: "For the avoidance of doubt, in no event shall EDC or the City be required to construct the Ramps as part of the Development." [Contract Section 3.3.]
It's quite sad that Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is at the mercy of a bunch of Machine hacks...one of which is soon retiring from the Council (and likely will become a deputy BP), one of which is running for Speaker and the third who has no problem shortchanging her community in order to advance her political career.