Late Wednesday night, the Building/Zoning Committee of Queens Community Board 7 ("CB7") voted to deny the Willets West / Willets Point Phase One ULURP application of Sterling Equities and Related Companies. The vote tally was 7-2, against the application. Those who voted "No" included committee Chair Chuck Apelian and CB7 Chair Eugene Kelty. We believe that if Queens residents realized what is truly at stake, they would be applauding and supporting this very important decision, and the work of the CB7 committee and leadership.
Willets Point United Inc. ("WPU") commends CB7 for finally taking a stand against this inappropriate development proposal of Sterling/Related – which calls for the construction of a huge 1.4 million square foot mall on 30+ acres of public parkland property, and would nearly double the size of the Willets Point development from 62 acres as proposed during 2008, to 108.9 acres as intended, now. The horrendous traffic impacts of such a large project at this Queens location, which will affect residents of surrounding communities as well as anyone who needs to commute efficiently past Willets Point, are just one key reason to deny this harmful application.
While the proposed Sterling/Related project prioritizes construction of an unnecessary, newly-added mall, key "benefits" of the Willets Point development that were touted during 2008 are not guaranteed, and instead are subject to contractual escape clauses. For example, housing and affordable housing were originally said to be linchpins of the development; but the present plan allows Sterling/Related to opt out of building any housing, upon payment of a penalty (which will be a mere cost of doing business). Moreover, Sterling/Related are not permitted to build any housing, unless new access ramps to and from the Van Wyck Expressway are first constructed – but the City has made it crystal clear in its contract with Sterling/Related, "for the avoidance of doubt, in no event shall EDC or the City be required to construct the Ramps as part of the Development". Without those ramps, there can be no housing – and Sterling/Related would not pay any penalty. Thus, it is entirely possible that not much other than a mall on parkland will be constructed if the project proceeds – hardly what was promoted during 2008.
Committee members were also troubled by the prospective abuse of eminent domain to forcibly acquire more property for this project – not for any essential public purpose, but to enrich private developers.
The Building/Zoning Committee convened four separate times during the past month to hear presentations by Sterling/Related and to discuss their application, for a total of roughly 13 hours. The developers had every chance to present thorough information in support of their application, and did so. Having considered everything, the committee voted to deny the application. We hope and expect that the full community board will recognize the wisdom of the committee's decision, and vote similarly after the public hearing on May 13, 2013.
We strongly encourage members of the public to attend and speak during the CB7 public hearing on Monday, May 13, 2013 at 7:00PM, at the Union Plaza Care Center, 33-23 Union Street in Flushing; 9th floor.
Please review the handout materials that we provided to the CB7 committee, reproduced below.