Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bloomberg Prepares for New Battle at Willets Point

The WSJ is reporting on the evolving plans of the Bloomberg administration for Willets Point-and it appears that it wants to use a retail mall as a stalking horse for the future grandiose plan for the entire area:

"New York City officials are shaking up one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's key development priorities, putting off for years the creation of a new neighborhood in Queens' Willets Point and calling first for a large retail center next to Citi Field, said people familiar with the matter. The tentative deal between the city and the developers—the principal owners of the New York Mets and the developer Related Cos.—upends the original vision for Willets Point, a project for which the city has committed $400 million and cleared the use of eminent domain.

Instead of housing and retail, parking lots for Mets fans would initially replace dozens of businesses in an area known as the Iron Triangle to the east of Citi Field. The new neighborhood is still intended to be built on that61-acre swath of land, but years later and only after a new shopping center is built on a parking lot to the west of the stadium."

New "Green Neighborhood" Is Auto-dependent Mall

"The first step for the developers would be to take on a costly 20-acre environmental cleanup and build the new parking lots for the stadium, the people said. They would also be required to build a hotel and a small amount of retail just to the east of Citi Field. Then they would be able to build more than 800,000 square feet of retail onthe parking lots to the west of the stadium. Only then would construction begin of the new neighborhood first envisioned by the Bloomberg administration, with the construction of the 400 apartments and 680,000 square feet of retail. That aspect of the project could grow, the people said."

Imagine that, an 800 square foot retail mall. Will this include those pesky ramps? Keep in mind WPU's objections to the Federal Highway Administration's approval of the ramps-predicated as it was on the assumption that the project will be built. Now that there is a completely new project the FHWA should be required to revisit its approval and use a no build baseline scenario to determine whether the new ramps would degrade the Van Wyck-as they most certainly will. (

The Journal's story begins to delve into the managerial incompetence that lay behind the original pie in the sky plan: "The city had sought bids for the project, initially conceived in 2007 as another in a line of Bloomberg-backed housing developments on which construction would begin before the mayor left office. But people familiar with the matter said the housing and retail project has become unfeasible as once envisioned, as developers have been unwilling to fully commit given the site's challenges. The site—an industrial area full of car-repair shops that officials have sought to develop for decades—would cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up, and developers were concerned about being able to quickly lure residents andretailers to the unproven area."

And nothing takes away from WPU's continuing opposition-and the group is sure to be joined by others with an axe to grind against Related, the city and Wal-Mart: "The new details are sure to embolden critics of the project and existing landowners in Willets Point, many of whom have long said the city's project wasn't feasible. "The small businesses don't want to leave and will continue to fight any efforts to take their property," said Michael Gerrard, an attorney representing remaining business owners in Willets Point."

Of course the fact that this will all be sent back to the city council is a further complication: "The changes also open it up to the potential for more alterations: part of the new plan must be approved by the City Council given that the extent of the proposed changes would trigger a new environmental review."

What this tells us is that we were right about the dangers of this entire fiasco-and that Mike Bloomberg should have been considering property rights as seriously as he views marriage equality. The only certainty here is that this development-whatever it turns out to be-will be the purview of the next mayor.