The state's highest court tossed a curveball to the city and a Queens developer hoping to build a $1 billion mall near Citi Field.
At least four judges on the six-judge panel of the Court of Appeals appeared skeptical of arguments by the city, state and developer, Queens Development Group, that the mall could be built on a parking lot designated as parkland.
“The primary purpose of this activity is a private purpose: to lease space and set up a shopping mall so people will spend money in the context of going to a sports event,” Justice Eugene Fahey said Tuesday. “Aren’t we required . . . that this particular development be approved by the Legislature?”
The oral arguments, which took place in a special session in White Plains, revolved around the 1961 law allowing the construction of Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows Park. The mall and movie theater, dubbed Willets West, would be built on the 30-acre site where the stadium once stood.
Assistant Solicitor General Anisha Dasgupta argued for the state that the proposed mall does have a public benefit because it will include public spaces and free attractions that go beyond a standard retail center. She noted a rooftop garden would be open to kids.
City attorney Michael Pastor echoed that argument.
“This is a public attraction. . . It’s a large public space. There’s public programming there,” he said.
But those public benefits didn’t override the project’s overall purpose, which seemed to conflict with the law’s original intent to allow a ballpark in the park, Fahey said.
“We can clearly see the economic viability of the project,” he said. "(The law) was aiming to provide a home for the Mets . . . now how far can you go askew of that?”