Monday, October 7, 2013

Willets West Mall on Parkland

Memo to Council Members Ferreras, Comrie and Weprin:

Crain's is reporting your last-ditch maneuvers to make the city "guarantee payment of $70 million to erect ramps" to and from the Van Wyck Expressway, without which NO housing may be built at Willets Point.

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.]

As long as those two clear contract provisions remain in effect, there still is NO CLEAR PATH to construct any housing or affordable housing at Willets Point. Thus, if you insist on ignoring the community's outrage over a mall being constructed on 30+ acres of Queens parkland, and want to push for housing, then you must not only obtain $70 million that is necessary for the Van Wyck ramps, but you must also REQUIRE that the project contract be revised so that the City guarantees to construct the Van Wyck ramps, and so that NO option exists for Sterling/Related to buy their way out of constructing the housing by paying a penalty. The construction of the ramps and the housing must
be guaranteed.

We repeat – Obtaining $70 million for highway ramps does not address the overriding problem with this project: the construction of a huge mall on parkland; AND, it alone does not and cannot guarantee that any housing will ever be constructed, because the project contract still contains escape clauses. It is the project contract that will
determine, years from now, what the parties are actually obligated to do.

The pending ULURP application of Sterling/Related has been rushed to coincide with the end of Mayor Bloomberg's final term, and the integrity of the Willets Point project originally approved by the City Council in 2008 – which involved NO mall on parkland – has been sacrificed. None of that is necessary. Denying this ULURP application of Sterling/Related will allow the next City administration to take a fresh look at this project, and to ensure that its goals – including
prioritized affordable housing – are respected, not evaded by a developer.


The membership of Willets Point United Inc.