Two of the largest planned developments of the Bloomberg administration were approved by the City Council this afternoon, rezoning two sites in Queens that will allow for more than 10,000 new apartments, more than half of which would be at below market rates.
In two separate votes, the Council approved the redevelopment of the 61-acre Willets Point industrial site by Shea Stadium and the 30-acre Hunter’s Point South site south of Long Island City along the East River. Based on numbers released by the city, in a full build-out of what’s allowed under the zoning, Willets Point would have more than 1,900 units of below-market-rate housing while Hunter’s Point South would have about 3,000.
The Willets Point vote culminates months (or decades, taking a broader view) of contentious battle over the site’s future. The Bloomberg administration targeted the district for redevelopment more than two years ago, and since has worked to push through the City Council a plan that would remove the current landowners and allow a developer to build a giant new complex of housing, retail, a hotel and perhaps a convention center. The fight to get Council approval was particularly difficult, as local Councilman Hiram Monserrate proved to be an exacting negotiator on issues surrounding affordable housing and deals with the large landowners.
Ultimately, the city boosted the affordable housing numbers to higher levels than it preferred and scaled back the scope of the main development. While the whole 61 acres will still be rezoned, two large parcels owned by Fodera Foods and House of Spices will remain in private hands and will not be awarded to a developer, though the businesses could independently sell their land. (The city bought out the largest landowner, Tully Construction, earlier today, though Tully would stay on its land for a number of years.)
Shovels in the ground shouldn’t be expected anytime soon as the project is clearly one for the long term, especially given the inclement credit markets. The site has been targeted for redevelopment by numerous administrations since the 1960s, but the landowners and other factors have thwarted the plans each time. Despite the likely widespread use of politically unpopular eminent domain, or at least the threat of it used on businesses to force land sales, the Bloomberg administration managed to emerge successful.
The plan passed the Council 42-2, with one abstention. Councilmen Tony Avella and Charles Barron voted against the plan, while Letitia James, an opponent of eminent domain, abstained.
HUNTER’S POINT SOUTH WAS hardly marked by any controversy, and thus slipped under the radar. The site was initially targeted by Mayor Bloomberg as a future home of 5,000 apartments, all for the middle class. The administration subsequently dropped that number to about 3,000 (with another 2,000 or so at market rates); however, it is still unclear how the costly venture will be financed.
The city is considering a financing structure where it would essentially be the developer and landlord for all the buildings on the site, a structure that the Economic Development Corporation thinks could save money in the long run as it would allow the use of tax-free financing. That structure has caused debate within the administration and would also need approval from the Internal Revenue Service, and has drawn fire from elected officials and affordable housing advocates who worry it would be inefficient. Still, a more standard development structure would be unlikely to qualify for tax-free bonds, and thus would require a large city investment.
Hunter’s Point South passed the Council 45-0.
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