Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pratt Center’s Joan Byron Nails Willets Point Development Defects

Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development testified last year about the glaring defects of the city’s newly reconfigured re-development of Willets Point. Her comments should be heeded by a city council that was snookered by the EDC when it approved the deal in 2008.

As Byron pointed out, the city is looking at developing Flushing Meadows Park in a way that makes little planning sense and, by the way, will destroy the park for any recreational use by the nearby communities:
We join with community representatives in calling for a full new Environmental Impact Study that will allow a comprehensive approach to this and other transformative projects now proposed within Flushing Meadows Corona Park. 
These projects represent both a threat and an opportunity for the communities of northern Queens, and for the City as a whole. Neither the threat nor the opportunity can be understood without a new, comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that takes into account the City’s current understanding of economic and environmental reality – including the costs and challenges of remediating sites within the established Willets Point Special District, and the degree to which these conditions make it unrealistic to develop the project as proposed in the original EIS, and defers the construction of the promised housing units until at least 2028.”
Ah yes, the housing that was promised-a promise that all of a sudden has become uneconomical today when it apparently wasn’t in the midst of the economic catastrophe in 2008:
The development of that housing, along with the schools, retail space, etc. that would create “a lively, mixed use district” – was presented in 2008 as a public benefit that justified the taking of private property, the disposition of public land, and enormous public investment in property acquisition, remediation, and infrastructure.
The City agencies who administer our laws, programs and regulations, the legislators who represent us, and above all, the people who live and work in the impacted communities, and the taxpayers of New York City, all deserve a full and up-to-date set of facts in which to ground our thinking about the development not only of the proposed “Willets West” addition to the district, but about the full set of projects being proposed within and around the borough’s flagship park.”
Or, in other words, the people of New York deserve the truth-something that the ethically challenged EDC is seemingly incapable of providing.  And Byron makes a strong case that the mall can’t be built without alienating the land as parkland:
We do not accept the premise that a mall falls within the definition of “edification” or other activities permitted on this site without new alienation legislation. Even if that were the case, a decision about the future of a major site, in the heart of an area undergoing profound change, and facing serious shortages of open space, housing, schools, and community facilities, should not be made solely on the basis of administrative expediency. If this site is to be put into play, ALL potential uses, including housing, should be considered.”
Well, yes they should-but they won’t under this mayor and what passes for oversight under the present city council. That means that it is imperative for those council members to realize that they have an opportunity to act independently, and in the public interest, by sending Willets West back to a more intelligent drawing board.

Remember, the mayor called Willets Point the city’s first green neighborhood-and instead we have a mall that makes little public policy sense: “Less than a mile away another large mall, Sky View opened in 2010 and remains only partially leased up.”

The mall’s traffic generation would further mock the city’s efforts at sustainability-as Byron strongly demonstrates:
A mall of this size generates thousands of car trips per day – tens of thousands on peak shopping weekends. And peak traffic to this mall would inevitably coincide with peak days for other destinations, including game days at CitiField and at the proposed soccer stadium, if it is built.
Though the Number 7 train is accessible, the 7 will continue to operate at unacceptable levels of crowding, even if new technologies allow for more frequent service. Mall shopping trips differ drastically from trips to traditional retail streets, and skew heavily toward driving. The proposed project contravenes the laudable goals of PlaNYC 2030, and the good work of the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, to reduce car trips and the concomitant greenhouse gas emissions.”
Can we imagine a lesser public interest than a mall and a parking lot? And a mall and a parking lot combined with a gift of $200 million and an additional $99 million in subsidies-partly and allegedly for remediation. Willets West is a catastrophe built on a scandal-and the city council should afford it the euthanasia it deserves.