Appellate Division deems Willets West mega-mall illegal;
enjoins any construction
Today, the Appellate Division First Department issued its decision in the matter of Avella v. City of New York, the court case which challenged the proposed construction of a 1.4 million square foot “Willets West” mega-mall on 40+ acres of public parkland located west of Citi Field stadium, and the 23-acre “Phase One” development of Willets Point. The developer of that project – and co-defendant with the City – is Queens Development Group, which is comprised of Sterling Equities (whose owners also own the New York Mets) and Related.
The court issued a unanimous decision of all four judges, “declaring that construction of Willets West on City parkland without the authorization of the state legislature violates the public trust doctrine, and enjoining any further steps toward its construction.”
The decision is a victory for plaintiffs that include NYS Senator Tony Avella, City Club of New York, the Queens Civic Congress (which represents the interests of 100+ civic organizations throughout Queens), New York City Park Advocates, Roosevelt Avenue business owners and nearby residents, Willets Point property and business owners, and the sole resident of Willets Point.
“Since 2007, we have battled the City at all times over its plans for Willets Point, which expanded in 2012 against the community’s wishes to include the gigantic proposed ‘Willets West’ mall on public parkland,” said Gerald Antonacci, leader of Willets Point United. “Today the Appellate Division agrees with what we’ve said all along: The City and developers failed to follow lawful procedure and now as a result their whole project cannot proceed. If Queens residents knew as much as we do about the horrendous traffic gridlock and other negative impacts of this Willets West/Willets Point Phase One project, they would be celebrating this court victory together with us. Today’s court decision absolutely vindicates all of our efforts and strengthens our resolve to continue challenging and opposing bad development propositions for our area. We’re especially thankful to Senator Avella, who has always done right by his constituents, City Club of New York which spearheaded the lawsuit, and stellar attorney John Low-Beer.”
In their failed attempt to justify the Willets West mega-mall to the court, defendants had argued that the 1961 law authorizing the construction of Shea Stadium on the same site provided all the permission they need to construct the mall there, now. The Appellate Division specifically rejected that argument today, finding that the focus of the 1961 law “is on [Shea] stadium, and the stadium only. There is simply no basis to interpret the statute as authorizing the construction of another structure that has no natural connection to a stadium. … Thus, the Willets West project must be enjoined.”
Willets Point United has previously noted that the Appellate Division seemed skeptical of the arguments made by defendants in court on April 15, 2015. Now we know that our reading of the tea leaves was correct.
The court’s decision comes just as the nation begins its Fourth of July holiday weekend. We’ll be back next week with more to say, and will respond to press queries that time.
Meanwhile, enjoy the Fourth of July holiday and all that it represents. We certainly will this year.